Dr Johnston’s responses to questions frequently asked as a result of recent media interest in the increasing numbers of skin reactions to cosmetic products.
What is the latest cosmetic scare I’ve been hearing all about?
Dermatologists are concerned that a widely used preservative is causing a huge rise in skin allergies
What is the cause?
It’s a preservative called Methylisothiazolinone (or MI for short)
Is it new?
MI has been used for some years as a preservative. However it has recently been used in far more products at far higher concentrations than before causing a rise in reactions
What is it in?
It is mainly used in cosmetics including wet wipes, shampoos, conditioners bubble baths and shower gels. It is also causing problems when in skin creams, body lotions and soaps
It is even in some sunscreens
That’s nearly everything!
It gets worse. MI is also in detergents, washing up liquids, fabric softeners moist toilet papers (wipes) and some glues
What does it do?
Essentially it causes eczema. The skin where the product is applied becomes red itchy and scaly. In severe cases the skin becomes cracked and swollen
Is this reaction common?
It is now. Over 16% of people being tested by me here in Leicester now have this allergy. In fact Leicester has one of the highest rates in the country.
Who gets it?
The majority of people who react are ladies over 40 applying cosmetics to their face. However I have seen male and female patients of all ages and have seen all parts of the skin affected over the last 6 months
I often get mild reactions to things I put on my skin.How do I find out if I am allergic to MI?
The only way to be sure is by patch testing. This is a specialist procedure performed by dermatologists. Carefully controlled amounts of chemical are applied to the skin of the back to see which produces a reaction
Not at all. I test nearly 400 people every year in Leicestershire. While it causes mild itching patients do not develop other problems. The biggest hassle is not being able to wash your back all week!
How do I know if it’s in my own cosmetics?
By European law all cosmetics have to have the ingredients listed on the packaging. Sometimes you have to look quite hard. If you can’t see the ingredients listed don’t use the product
What can I do?
You need to be as careful about what you apply to your skin as with what you eat! This is particularly true if you have a tendency to eczema asthma or hay fever. When buying a skin product the rule is the less ingredients the better – so always check the label!