Behind the label: Methylisothiazolinone

You may have read in some of the national newspapers that scientists attending a dermatology conference in Liverpool were to discuss growing concerns over two ingredients routinely used in modern beauty products.

Describing an 'epidemic' among patients, skin specialists are reporting one of the 'worst outbreaks of allergy to cosmetics ever seen'.

Dr John McFadden, a consultant at St Thomas' Hospital in London warns: "There hasn't been anything on this scale before and we just don't know when it will peak." So what is the concern about?

An immediate ban

Medics want to see an immediate ban on the continued use of the preservatives Methylisothiazolinone (MI) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone/Methylisothiazolinone (MCI/MI), after reports that one in 10 patients with certain skin conditions test positive for intolerance or allergy to the substances.

Research by St John's Institute of Dermatology in London and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, is supported by studies from Denmark and Australia, which also show a surge in allergic reactions.

 

MI was first was approved by the European Commission in 2005 as a preservative for products left on the skin. It was widely adopted by cosmetics firms because it extends the shelf life of products such as moisturisers, sun creams, shampoos and wet wipes.

The chemical stops products going mouldy by binding to microbes and preventing bugs from thriving. However, some people's immune systems identify this process as a threat, prompting a reaction and a reported surge in patients presenting with rashes, scaling skin, swelling, and eczema.

Dr John English, a consultant dermatologist at Nottinghamshire University Hospital, said: "This is an epidemic and urgent immediate action is needed. "Every day we are seeing patients who are allergic to this chemical and they don't realise it's their cosmetics causing the problem, so they keep on using them."

Looking into the concerns

The issue will be discussed by experts in the field at the 93rd Annual Meeting of the British Association of Dermatologists. In response, the European Commission has said its scientists are looking into the concerns 'in detail'.

 

David Orton, president of the British Society of Cutaneous Allergy, said: "Across the large patch test centres in the UK, data suggests that rates of allergy to these two preservatives are now nearing 10%- and in some cases higher. This is clearly far too high and is an unacceptable situation.

"The last time a preservative had this type of effect it was banned by the EU. Although the relevant bodies in Europe have set up a review, this all takes time and in the meantime the number of people coming to see us with this allergy is only likely to rise."

And he called for round-table talks with manufacturers, adding: "We would welcome the opportunity to meet and discuss this issue with representatives of the UK cosmetics industry so as to take immediate steps to protect UK consumers."
Dr McFadden concludes: "The time for action is now. Many of our patients have suffered acute dermatitis with redness and swelling of the face. I would ask the cosmetics industry not to wait for legislation, but to get on and address the problem of MI allergy before the situation gets worse. If they are already taking action we would urge them to be open and transparent about what steps they are taking."

Be aware, be safe

To avoid any reaction, check the ingredients list on the back of your beauty products and avoid lotions and potions containing it. Many of the brands on our Where to Shop guide avoid the use of chemicals and preservatives, giving a full run-down of all the ingredients they use on their websites.

 

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The information given in this feature (ie the cruelty-free status of the brands, product information and prices) is correct at the time of publication (June 2013). For an up-to-date list of cruelty-free brands and their contact details, please see our Where To Shop Guide.