The unseen epidemic: Beauty lotions and other household products blamed for skin allergy surge

  • Preservatives used in widely-used products may be behind rise in allergies
  • MI and MCI found in wide range of beauty and cleaning products
  • Skin researchers say they can cause itching, hives and redness

By Jenny Hope DailyMail  PUBLISHED: 8 July 2013

Rash: A preservative commonly used in beauty products, such as a product in L’Oreal‘s Revitalift range, may be behind a spike in skin allergies

Everyday beauty and cleaning products are being blamed for an epidemic of skin allergies.

Preservatives used in Nivea skin lotion, some L’Oreal creams and Wet Ones cleaning wipes are being linked to an outbreak of acute allergic contact dermatitis, mostly in women over 40.

The ingredients – MI and MCI – are also found in mascara, shower gels and washing up liquids.

Dermatologists say there has been a surge in allergic reactions  –including facial swelling, itching, hives and redness – caused by exposure to the preservatives.

Dr John McFadden, consultant dermatologist at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, is urging the cosmetics industry to take action.

He said: ‘We are in the midst of an outbreak of allergy which we have not seen before in terms of scale in our lifetime.

‘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 before the situation gets worse.’

Cases identified by Dr McFadden’s team at St John’s Institute for Dermatology have gone from one in 2010 to 33 in 2012.

‘Sources of exposure were diverse, including moist tissue wipes, cleaners, toners, shower gel, shave foam, mascara, hair products and washing up liquid,’ his report found.

A team at the Leeds Centre for Dermatology also discovered a sharp rise of 6.2 per cent in sensitivity in contact allergy to the ingredients over the past three years.

They suspect the legal limit of 0.01 per cent of MI in personal care products is too high.

Specialists presenting research to the British Association of Dermatologists’ conference in Liverpool this week say the levels should be cut further, or eliminated.

In the US, the American Contact Dermatitis Society named MI ‘contact allergen of the year’ for 2013 to draw attention to its potential for triggering reactions.

 David Orton, president of the British Society of Cutaneous Allergy, said: ‘Across the large patch test centres in the UK, data suggest that rates of allergy to these two preservatives are now nearing 10 per cent – 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.’

But Dr Emma Meredith, head of scientific and technical services at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, said patch testing was an important way of seeing if an individual reacts to allergens.

Wet Ones anti-bacterial wipes contain the MI and MCI preservatives, which can cause redness, itching and hives

Wet Ones anti-bacterial wipes contain the MI and MCI preservatives, which can cause redness, itching and hives

She said maximum levels of the preservatives allowed in products were restricted by law to 0.01 per cent of MI and 0.0015 per cent MCI.

Dr Meredith added: ‘If there is a positive reaction to a patch test it does not necessarily mean a reaction will occur on exposure to a cosmetic product, and the small amounts legally allowed.’

The ingredients – full names  Methylisothiazolinone (MI) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone/Methylisothiazolinone (MCI/MI) – have been used since the 1980s in wall paints and have more recently been used in other manufacturing.

Products that contain the ingredients include Nivea body lotion and facial cleaning wipes, Wet Ones, Piz Buin 1 Day Long Lotion and L’Oréal Revitalift Laser Renew moisturiser.

Wet Ones, L’Oreal and Piz Buin insist their products are safe.

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