Healthy Body

Why an Anal Surgeon Is Begging You To Stop Using Wet Wipes

Graphic: Well+Good Creative
Wet wipes are the San Pellegrino of butt-cleansing tools: They feel like a fancier, grown-up version of toilet paper. And addition to the posh factor, people who swear by them for their post-bowel-movement wipe believe that the method is more thorough and leaves the buttocks cleaner than it would otherwise be. While I hear you concerning the argument at hand, an anal surgeon says it's time to officially ditch those wet wipes for toilet paper.

"People think if they can use a wet wipe on their baby, they can use it on themselves," says Evan Goldstein, DO, anal surgeon and founder of Future Method. However, while wet wipes might make you think you're getting your bum cleaner, they can actually cause myriad complications that you probably don't want to have to deal with in the long run. In addition to being a major environmental concern—which is a big deal—wet wipes aren't the best option for the health of your anal region.

Wet wipes can mess with your skin microbiome

Just like the skin on your face, your anus and its surrounding skin is covered in good and bad bacteria, which work together to find homeostasis and keep your tush in tip-top condition. "This is important, so when you start to augment that [microbiome] with wet wipes, what happens is that you're wiping away the good bacteria and the balance becomes a problem," says Dr. Goldstein. When there's an imbalance, you can wind up with irritation, rashes, or fungal or bacterial infections. "With the homeostasis in the biome altered, bad bacteria starts to populate fungus or irritation, which I see all of the time," he says, noting that a standout sign of this is redness and overall discomfort. And, BTW: Even wet wipes that are "chemical-free" will do this.

Another big risk with using wet wipes is the moisture factor. "People tend to use wet wipes and then pull up their pants, so what happens is that the moisture sits there," says Dr. Goldstein. "The moisture just festers, and it causes a change in bacteria and leads to irritation." If this continually happens, he notes that people can feel as though they have fissures or hemorrhoids when really it's just a buildup of irritation and bad bacteria. If you experience something like this, make an appointment with your doctor to see what's going on.

Wet wipes are also bad for the environment

What's more, wet wipes can cause major problems for the health of the toilet ecosystem as well. "They often get clogged in the plumbing systems, and wind up in rivers and streams, which becomes a major issue," says Dr. Goldstein. Flushed wet wipes and other waste (like grease) can accumulate in our sewer system, creating massive "fatbergs" that clog pipes and damage wastewater infrastructure. (While some wipes are advertised as "flushable" or "sceptic safe," environmental groups argue that none of them truly are safe for our sewage systems.) The problem has gotten so bad that in 2021, Congress introduced a bill that would create a standard for labeling non-flushable wipes. It has yet to pass and be signed into law.

Wet wipes themselves also contain plastics that don't degrade over time, which has serious consequences for the health of our planet. A 2021 study published in Environmental Challenges found that wet wipes are a major contributor to marine microplastic pollution when improperly disposed (aka flushed)—which affects the safety of our water supply as well as the health of ocean ecosystems. Another study in 2022 found that plastic waste in sewage (like wet wipes) brings harmful, antibiotic-resistant bacteria like E.Coli directly to beaches and ocean habitats.

What should I use to wipe my butt instead?

According to Dr. Goldstein, wet wipes should never, ever be used. Instead, your options are toilet paper and bidets. Dr. Goldstein is an advocate of the latter.

Why? Well, toilet paper, while designed to break down (and thus not a major contributor to fatbergs), are still not great for the environment. A 2019 report from the National Resource Defense Council found that demand for toilet paper in the U.S. contributes to industrial logging that claims more than a million acres of Canadian forest every single year. Deforestation in Indonesia has doubled, per the World Wildlife Federation, driven largely by pulp, paper, and palm oil production. And less natural forest = less carbon capture from trees and greater disruption to native species and ecosystems.

Meanwhile, bidets—a staple in many countries outside the U.S.—can be an effective way to reduce paper consumption *and* get your booty truly clean. "I very often recommend bidets for my patients with recurrent UTIs," urologist Lamia Gabal, MD, previously told Well+Good. "I feel it helps to evacuate the stool completely, decrease the bacteria in the area and, in turn, decrease the risk for infection." There are even portable bidets so you can keep your booty clean on the go.

However, bidets aren't necessarily cheap, and do require installation, something that might not be possible for everyone (especially renters). In that case, TP is fine, especially if you opt for some more eco-friendly toilet paper options.

But whatever you do, please, please ditch those wet wipes—for your butt's sake as well as the planet's.

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