How hard is it to avoid the isothiazolinone preservatives, do you think? Or indeed, other contact allergens? And is it getting easier, or tougher?
A paper just published in the journal Contact Dermatitis — you can read the abstract here — researched the experiences of 139 MI-allergic individuals to see whether they suffered relapses following diagnosis and relief of symptoms.
The median follow-up was three years, and researchers found that around two-thirds of people experienced at least one relapse of their symptoms, and were severe in one in five. 69% of relapses were on the hands, and 29% on the face.
Anyone familiar with the MI-related Facebook groups will not be surprised at this. The despairing posts of patients who have tried exceptionally hard to avoid their triggers, and yet were somehow caught out, often by an unidentified source, are often difficult to see. It’s a feature of the isothiazolinone community that the support offered in these situations is strong, and members are never allowed to blame themselves for what has befallen them, but all of us are aware that mishaps will continue to happen, sometimes with severe, painful and distressing consequences that can set people back months.
The abstract makes clear the main difficulties in successfully avoiding isothiazolinone preservatives:
- hidden sources of MI;
- the lack of labelling on industrial products;
- the complexity of cosmetic labelling;
- remembering the name of the allergen.
These last two are I think especially important, especially if you have multiple allergens, not just to MI and MCI. Cosmetics labels can read like ingredients from a chemistry set, and if you have a long list of ingredients and chemicals you must avoid, it’s enough to make your eyes water.
There are of course resources to help. On this site, for example, there are lists of isothiazolinone-free cosmetic brands, as well as a list of ‘Other Names for MI‘, which details the variety of guises under which isothiazolinone preservatives can occasionally appear.
Free From Labelling
But in my view, the single most helpful thing that any cosmetic brand can do is to clearly nail its policy to the mast and state explicitly — “MI Free”, “Free From MI”, “No MI” or “Does Not Contain MI”.
Wouldn’t it be great if more brands did that?
Many of you I imagine will agree, but in the EU at least, so-called “free from” labelling is coming under attack from the regulators, who have passed new guidance on its use. The subject is complex and somewhat unclear, but ‘free from’ claims which are deemed to be ‘denigrating’ will not be permitted, and neither will such claims for products which do not ordinarily contain the ingredient in question, nor those in which the ingredients are illegal.
What does this mean in practice? One example is this: “Parabens free” will no longer be permitted, because parabens is cited as one of the ingredients about which there is a lot of public denigration and misplaced fear.
Another example might be “MI free” on a bar of soap, which does not ordinarily contain MI or any other preservative; the same goes for “MI free” on leave-on face or body cream, in which it is now banned.
This is frustrating, because many people, the newly diagnosed especially, aren’t always aware of where allergens such as MI are usually found, nor are they aware of legislation.
But what about “MI Free” on other products, such as shampoos? It is unclear whether this falls foul of the regulation, because — shockingly in my opinion — there is very little acknowledgement made of allergy concerns in the legislation (which you can see in full in Annex III here).
If you’re wondering why the cosmetic industry is moving this way, it’s due to pressure from major cosmetic houses, orthodox cosmetic chemists who often work for them, and the cosmetic trade bodies whose members consist of them. They often appear to resent more ‘natural’ leaning cosmetics and the trend for green or more ethical beauty, and have lobbied the regulators to clamp down on ‘free from’ labelling for unjustifiable reasons.
Thankfully, there are no signs that North America is heading this way, which is some comfort, given that isothiazolinones in leave-on products remain permitted here, but it is worrying that in Europe, there appears to be a crackdown on a form of labelling which is most useful to those with allergies.
And I think it really, really stinks, and those who campaigned for it or support it should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
If you want to learn more about my thoughts on the new ‘free from’ legislation, see my article on the Skins Matter blog here.