What's in Your Make-Up: The Rise of Methylisothiazolinone Allergy
It started with an irritating itch. Initially, it was just the hands, but in a matter of weeks, the itch had spread to my legs, my back, my whole body. My body was a bloody, scabby, blistering, oozing mess and no matter what I did about it - no matter how much moisturising or anti-itch cream, it just wouldn't go away. Initially I was diagnosed as having adult atopic eczema. Apparently, it's pretty common to experience it as a child, then go into remission throughout your teenage years, only to re-emerge in young adulthood.
Prescribed a hefty course of steroids and equipped with a steroid cream, my skin seemed to recover. But this was to be short lived - the cream merely acted as a plaster. The cream, instead of treating sporadic patches effectively, was instead firefighting a losing battle. Within months, I was back to square one - in the height on my discomfort, resorting to wearing cotton gloves during the day whilst I typed, and at night to stop me scratching. I was utterly miserable.
Eventually, a patch allergy test conducted by a dermatologist revealed that I was indeed extremely allergic to many substances - but most notably, the controversial additive Methylisothiazolinone.
What is Methylisothiazolinone?
Methylisothiazolinone, or MI, is a preservative. MI is a relatively new chemical for consumers. Historically, the preservative was typically used for industrial or occupational uses, however sometime between the early to mid-2000s, it became a choice preservative for consumer goods: household cleaning products, soaps, deodorant, glue, cosmetics* - the list is extensive. The purpose of MI is to prevent or reduce the growth of unwanted bacteria.
We all have allergies. What makes this one so special?
Statistically, the chances are you probably have an allergy or an intolerance to something. For some, it's a life threatening allergy to nuts, for others, it's big puffed up eyes from using make up wipes. Allergies are a fact of life, and when handled with the right treatment and proactive care, many can live a totally normal life.
But here's the problem with Methylisothiazolinone: despite the fact it affects a significant number of people, it doesn't get the air time it needs to make the public aware. Medical professionals are largely in agreement that the number of people who are reporting allergies to MI are on the rise - some going as far as to call it an "epidemic." , some going as far as to call the European Commission negligent.
How common is it? The numbers vary depending on the outlet or publication reporting, but studies suggest that between 11% and 27% of people tested for general skin allergies can show a positive reaction to MI. To put that into perspective: that's in some cases almost a third of people tested.
Who are the biggest offenders?
Since being diagnosed with a Methylisothiazolinone allergy, I've become only too aware of how many big brand companies are using the preservative. Once I stopped using these products, my symptoms (and my misery) disappeared within a matter days.
What's perhaps more surprising though, is the number of "skincare" or "sensitive skin" products that also contain the preservative - leaving choice to be very limited.
The names of some of the worst offenders may surprise you, such as Boots (own brand) and Nivea.
I want to avoid Methylisothiazolinone. What can I do?
Once you've been formally diagnosed, your doctor will equip you with a boat load of information. Most of it will be geared around avoidance.
Your first port of call should be to review everything you use on a daily basis - from foundation to washing up liquid. Anything that comes into contact with your skin, however little, is suspect - so check yourself as you move about your daily routine.
When it comes to shopping for suitable products, be cautious. Brands that make 100% "natural" or hypoallergenic claims aren't always what they seem and often products are loaded with harmful "naturally" occurring substances, including Formaldehyde, a well-known carcinogenic.
Methylisothiazolinone is present in so much, you may find adapting to your new lifestyle a little bit overwhelming. However, we thankfully are living in a much more consumer-conscious society - and given enough pressure, it'll only be a matter of time before brands follow suit.
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