Fragrance, methylisothiazolinone, and the air we breathe

There was an interesting article in the BBC Magazine last week – “Is there a danger from scented products?

The idea that fragrances in the form of fragrance allergens could be harming us is not new. EU Cosmetics are required to list any of the 26 named fragrance allergens they contain on their products, so that people with skin allergies / contact dermatitis can more easily avoid them. And concerns have been raised for many years about the chemical drugstore of petrochemically-derived ingredients which are permitted to be used in perfumes and eau de toilettes, their provenance and potential toxicity obscured by the catch-all term “parfum“. Sounds so French, chic and safe, doesn’t it?

It’s the atmosphere inside the home the article focused on. While the level of fragrance chemicals – and any preservatives they contain – are limited in products for safety – might they build up behind closed doors and windows to levels which are beyond safety?

Yes, according to researchers, who found particularly high levels of the fragrance allergen limonene – found naturally in lemons, and used to impart a citrus smell in many household cleaners and personal care products. In itself, limonene is safe – but it can, however, react with ozone in the air to create formaldehyde – a cancer-causing chemical. As the article says, enjoying “the aroma of fragranced candles … air fresheners and cleaning products” might be leading us to expose ourselves “to a serious nasty”.


With added MI and MCI

You have to wonder why we go to such lengths to fragrance our homes and our selves? Is it the fear of smelling bad, of inviting a guest into your home and offending their nose with last night’s curry or this morning’s visit to the loo?

It would be better to open a window. Air fresheners are unnecessary. Take this Tesco Everyday Value Air Freshener Floral Gel for 39p. Would you really want it in the home? The price alone ought to tell you it can’t possibly contain anything that might conceivably do you good. The only compliment I can pay it is that it does the honourable thing in declaring its methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone preservatives in the formulation, with an allergy warning – and various other alarming health warnings.

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Method website on the isothiazolinones

Method air refreshers use MI and benzisothiazolinone (BIT), characterising each ingredient as “low skin and eye irritation”. Many would beg to differ. MI-allergy sufferers visiting homes and offices can’t possibly know when such fragrancing products – and the preservatives that must necessarily come with them – will be used.

The solution to beat formaldehyde is houseplants, suggests the article. Whether that works with MI / MCI I don’t know, but the better solution would be to avoid bringing isothiazolinones into the home at all – not only via air fresheners, but via paints, and other products.

I’ve yet to pull together a resource of isothiazolinone-free air fresheners, but if you know of any please let me know. I’m awaiting confirmation from the brands concerned, but the Earth Friendly Products Uni-Fresh range of air fresheners appear to be free from isothiazolnones, and so do these Primavera Air Sprays (UK only). This Natural HomeLogic Jasmine Mist Odor Eliminator is confirmed MI-free. Though I still think the window option is your best bet …

For a selection of MI-free paints, see our Paints Directory here


  1. Rebekah Baharestan

    Love the site/ blog. Excellent place to paste up resources. Many people will benefit by having more places to see information, who are you may I ask? said one fellow MI familiar researcher to another…

    1. MI Free (Post author)

      Thanks Rebekah – and for being my first commenter! I hope to build it up into a strong resource over time. Planning on give info / contact details when the site has a bit more content, but will drop you an email.

  2. Melissa D

    I hadn’t even realised until now that air fresheners contain MI!!! Luckily I am not a keen user!

    1. MI Free (Post author)

      We only realised ourselves recently … More research into it to come!

  3. Lynn SWidenbank

    Reaction from NIvea sensitive cleaning wipes. MEthylisothiazolinone one of the ingredients stated on back of packet. Does say free from perfume on front of packet but didn’t look at ingredients until it was too late rash on either side of my face !

    1. MI Free (Post author)

      Urgh, sorry to hear that. That’s the thing with one ‘free from’ message (free from perfume) – it can easily lull you into a sense that it’s free of other ingredients you’d like to avoid …

      1. Rebekah Baharestan

        fragrances/ methylisothiazolinone : before making any assumptions; We need more information as to whether methylisothiazolinone is in fact contained within “fragrances” . this may require testing with spectromatoghraphy? or inside full ingredient disclosure which to my knowledge, IFRA has not released? and if MI is found to be contained in fragrances, which ones, at what Part per million (ppm), and is it used as the base ingeredient in most fragrance formulations?- ( agin -if it in fact contained at all in fragrance palettes)
        this question is regarding the base of any and all fragrances , as we do know that many air spray deodorizers and room scenting products include Methylisothiazolinone- as it is declared on some labels and even showing reported reactions to those allergic to MI etc…but we do not know if it is directly contained within the specific fragrance pallets. I have spent much time pouring over fragrance ingredient disclosures and have only found one ingredient something similar to MI…

        1. MI Free (Post author)

          I’ll have to take your word re: IFRA – I’m not aware of fragrance compounds in the EU being sold as a raw material with isothiazolinone preservatives (do they need them?). This one looks like quite a challenge to investigate … I’ll add it to the list ….

          1. Rebekah

            Actually i have the proof that MCI IS in fact ine of the ingredients used in fragrances- along with some few thousand other possible chemicals. Happy to point you in the right direction- cheers

          2. MI Free (Post author)

            Yes, please!

  4. Michelle Randall

    As someone who has been sensitized to methylisothiazolinone , I want to thank you for writing this blog. This allergy is not “just a rash”, it is life changing , sleepless nights, open sores and blisters. The more information that is made public the better.

    1. MI Free (Post author)

      Thanks Michelle – I’ll try to keep putting more and more information here to help all MI allergy sufferers.

  5. Pingback: Methylisothiazolinone allergy: 10 ways you can help awareness | Methylisothiazolinone Free

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