What is alpha isomethyl ionone – and is it safe?

Alpha isomethyl ionone – sometimes called isomethylionone – is a fragrance sometimes used in cosmetics and household cleaning products – for instance in soaps, hair care products, perfumes, fabric conditioners and detergents. Dove, Olay and Nivea use it in a number of products, for instance, and it is in such scents as Paco Rabanne’s 1 Million for men and Lady Million Eau de Parfum for women. 

Given the similarity of its name to methylisothiazolinone, it’s not surprising that many wonder whether it’s safe for people allergic to the isothiazolinones.  

Fabric conditioner with four isothiazolinones – and alpha isomethyl ionone too

Alpha isomethyl ionone is a fragrance, isothiazolinones are preservatives, the two chemical families are not related, and from an MI-allergy perspective, it is definitely not an isothiazolinone preservative and accordingly should not cause so-called cross reactions. 

That said, it is a potential skin sensitiser and allergen in its own right, and is one of the 26 fragrance allergens which EU cosmetics law has specified should be declared on lists of ingredients (in fact, alphabetically, it is the first). It isn’t found in either Fragrance Mix I or Fragrance Mix II in the contact dermatitis testing panels, so will be tested individually if you undergo patch testing. It is possible to be allergic to both it and to MI. 



Cosmetics Info say that it is synthetic, therefore any product or brand claiming to be free from artificial fragrances should in theory be safe for you, if you do have an allergy to it.

In all probability, brands which pride themselves as natural or are certified by a natural or organic body will probably be alpha isomethyl ionone-free – as well as isothiazolinone free – but always double check..

So-called fragrance free cosmetics should also be free of alpha isomethyl ionone – though will not necessarily be free from MI / MCI, and will be free of other fragrances which you may not in fact react to.

As always in the above cases, make sure to check the label, and double check with the manufacturer if you can or if you are uncertain. 

Other names for alpha isomethyl ionone, which may be seen on non-cosmetic products, include gammanolene and irisantheme. Its CAS number is 127-51-5. You may come across the name hyphenated or with alternate spacing / word separation – eg alpha-iso-methylionone.

14 Comments

  1. Amanda Mullen

    Eden perfumes in the UK claims to make all natural dupes of well-known brands. But every one of their fragrances contains alpha-isomethyl ionone. Quite annoying.

    Reply
    1. MI Free (Post author)

      Are you definitely sensitive to alpha isomethyl ionone? Do Eden not do bespoke options without certain ingredients such as this one?

      Reply
  2. Amanda Mullen

    It’s not so much a case of being sensitive to it as it’s classification as a potential human toxin. But no, Eden don’t offer any perfumes without that ingredients. Typical greenwashing.

    Reply
    1. MI Free (Post author)

      Not sure who might have classified it as a ‘human toxin’ (if the EWG, then I’m afraid I’m sometimes sceptical of their work), but even if so, it’s the question of dose that determines toxicity, and as a fragrance chemical it would be used in small amounts, determined safe by the SCCS, I presume, in the EU. As it’s artificial, though, the issue of greenwashing is indeed valid as it’s non-natural. I did tweet Eden about your comment, but they’ve not replied on Twitter either.

      Reply
  3. Roseann

    Is there a list of items/cosmetics we with MI can use? Its usually mono gumbo. Just spit it out. Please

    Reply
    1. MI Free (Post author)

      Excuse me? Not sure what you mean by ‘mono gumbo’, but there are lists in the drop-down resources in the menu across the top of the site. Thanks.

      Reply
  4. Hayley

    Ive been trying to find out if it’s water soluble or not and so far not much has come up, anyone know about this?

    Reply
    1. MI Free (Post author)

      Hm, not sure – but given it’s used in perfumes – which are often water-based mixtures with added fragrance compounds – I would venture that it must be. Are you on social media? Perhaps try tweeting a cosmetic scientist or formulator? They would know.

      Reply
  5. Joan Parks

    If a product is advertised as chemical free, could it have this product in it?

    Reply
    1. MI Free (Post author)

      Sadly, brands shouldn’t make a ‘chemical free’ claim, because everything is a chemical – including water. What they probably mean is ‘free of artificial chemicals’, and as this is one, then it probably won’t contain it. But I don’t think that’s a 100% guarantee, unfortunately, Joan …

      Reply
  6. Janet

    Hi I’m trying to find out if I am alllergic to mi. I’ve been a hairstylist for over 20yrs & never had an allergic reaction to any products until about 5yrs ago. I get a severe case of hives several hours after being exposed to something. Always about an hour after I leave work. I have been able to pinpoint a few shampoos/conditioners that cause it but cannot figure out what chemical. It is very frustrating. Is there a list of other words used instead of mi? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. MI Free (Post author)

      Hi Janet – yes, you’ll find it here: http://mi-free.com/articles/other-names-for-mi/
      If you’re trying to find out whether you’re allergic though, I would strongly suggest seeing a dermatologist for patch testing.

      Reply
  7. Verushka

    I just got a strong respiratory allergic reaction (trouble breathing, eye-irriration/wetness, dryness to mucous membranes, headache, nausea) to alpha-isomethyl ionone.. I KNOW it to be the culprit because I bought a new antiperspirant from Body shop. They don’t make my favourite strawberry one anymore..

    White musk the new one (to me) was called. Apparently a popular product. I didn’t know that they had it as a perfume, too, since I’ve never used perfumes, know absolutely nothing about them except that they’re my worst enemies. I assumed it was like my other Body shop antiperspirant so didn’t think of rolling the ball to get the full scent.

    Long story short; got back home, put it on before climbing to bed; it was like glue, and the smell was so strong that I couldn’t sleep. Soon came the physical reactions and I had to go take a shower at 5am, the horrible stench didn’t leave until the eighth ‘borderline violent’ wash with liquid soaps that have strong natural scents (tea tree + banana. I had to cut a piece off of my soap bar. I even had to change my sheets! I have never had such strong a reaction to anything I’ve used myself, especially deodorant/antiperspirant. I studied all of my products; only the white musk has alpha-isomethyl ionone. And with a little help from Google I found it to be.. Well, not very healthy! Just because you don’t react to it doesn’t mean it’s not affecting you in any way. And I know a lot about aluminium but they haven’t invented a regular deodorant yet that would keep my underarms even in somewhat decent condition. Nothing helps but antiperspirants (and I will only buy from completely cruelty-free companies ie no ‘evil’ parent companies and no selling to China). BUT, I contacted Body shop and they will refund me. They were very helpful and understanding! I just learned to be even more careful and less (blindly) trusting. You always have to do your homework about everything you use, wear or eat. Never trust doctors/big corporations or any authorities. Authority>power>greed>control.

    Reply
    1. MI Free (Post author)

      It’s an artificial fragrance and generally I find these do smell more ‘synthetic’ but body shop do use them. You’ll also find alpha-i-i in a lot of ‘designer’ fragrances, so take care with them. Essential oil-based products I think are better on the nose but they can be very allergenic too. Sadly, nothing is 100% safe. Have you ever tried a natural cream deodorant, like Living Naturally’s fragrance free? https://www.soapnuts.co.uk/products/copy-of-organic-deodorant-cream-fragrance-free – not an anti-perspirant, though.

      Reply

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