The standard of health journalism in the media varies widely. Sometimes it’s excellent; sometimes it’s poor; occasionally it’s a health risk. As a health writer myself, I know I’ve made mistakes, and when I’ve done so I’ve tried to put it right or at least mitigate against the error in any way possible – acknowledgment, apology, clarification, correction. If it’s self-published, you go ahead and do it; if it’s published by a third party, you contact your commissioning editor. It’s just the responsible thing to do, although an editor may not always act.
In April, a poor article called Are Your Beauty Products Toxic? was published in the Daily Mail – a right-wing UK newspaper which is no stranger to inaccuracy in health journalism. The mistakes hit you one after the other: the false statistic that we absorb 60% of whatever comes into contact with the skin (How much of your last bath did you absorb?), followed by the incorrect statement that only artificial not natural fragrances trigger allergy (both are equally likely to be reactive). It is poorly researched, poorly referenced, looks rushed and careless. And it’s alarmist.
Scroll down to Point 13, there’s an entry for MI / MCI. It claims that the EU recently banned isothiazolinones, adding:
” … companies had until February this year to remove it from their products so you shouldn’t see this on the European market any more.”
This is wrong. The EU recently banned them from leave-on products, not rinse-off. (We covered this partial ban here.)
I was late to it, but later that month I tweeted the journalist to ask her to push for a correction. No response. I tweeted again. Again, no response.
Those with MI / MCI allergy reading that article could be mistakenly misled into thinking that they can buy any cosmetic product in the EU and be safe. This is not true – they may well still encounter it shampoos, conditioners, liquid hand soaps and shower gels. In the UK, it’s even cropped up in mouthwash. It’s not difficult to imagine someone reading that article, believing themselves to be perfectly safe when trying the free toiletries when staying in a EU hotel, for example, suffering a bad reaction, and ruining their holiday.
I can’t know why journalist Claudia Tanner has not responded to my tweets, but the end result of all this is that it is an allergy sufferer who could end up being hurt – again. On my more general blog, Allergy Insight, I have written a lot about Daily Mail’s coverage of allergies, and this case to me merely reiterates the importance of always double checking your facts when it comes to serious health issues, and to take your news and information from specialist sources and individuals, not alarmist newspapers whose writers only appear to superficially understand the subjects in which they try to deal.