Sensitive Skin Care

Maladies, Melodies, Allergies

I have never been the type of person to pay attention to what’s actually in the products I use. If I find a perfume or lotion that smells good, I practically bathe in it (probably to the point of choking people around me). If I find a foundation or concealer that covers my blemishes or hides the dark circles under my super deep-set eyes,  I slather on way more than the recommended amount. If I find a spray that cleans things AND smells good – you’d better believe I use it on every surface of my home whether it needs cleaning or not. And I’ve used so much hairspray in my lifetime that there’s probably a hole in the ozone layer that spells out my name.

Or, at least,  I used to do these things.

But now – unless I do a lot of prior research – I can’t wash my hands in public restrooms. I can’t wash dishes or use the cutlery at other people’s houses or restaurants.  I can’t try on makeup samples at Sephora, try out new perfumes in department stores, or burn candles in my home. I can’t wear sunscreen or use mouthwash. I can’t paint the walls of my flat or clean my bathroom with bottled cleaners. If I don’t do my research, I end up looking like this:

HORROR MOVIE EYES. That rash around my eyes looks scary, but it’s not so much scary as it is a huge pain in the ass. About a year ago, after a long battle with that horrible rash on my face and then extensive patch testing, I was diagnosed with an allergy to methylisothiazolinone. That word sounds scary  – but it’s just a fancy word for ‘huge pain in the ass.’ Just kidding. (Kind of.) (Not really.) Methylisothiazolinone/methylchloroisothiazolinone, or MI/MCI for short, is a chemical preservative found (mostly) in water based products including (but definitely not limited to):

  • Cosmetics
  • Shampoo/Conditioner
  • Liquid soaps
  • Dish detergent/washing up liquid
  • Laundry detergent and softener
  • Adhesives
  • Paint
  • Sunscreen
  • Baby wipes/makeup wipes

I became sensitized to MI after using Neutrogena Skin-Clearing Foundation and St. Ives Apricot Face Scrub – products from two companies that I always considered reputable and skin-safe. I had no idea that you can become allergic to something through repeated use, but that’s what happened. And I’m not alone – allergies to isothiazolinones (the family of chemicals to which MI belongs) – is one of the fastest growing skin issues in dermatology. 

Because my allergy is a form of contact dermatitis, I react when any part of my skin comes into contact with MI from directly touching the chemical or even through fumes. While many sufferers experience reactions on the parts of their skin where the contact has occurred, others suffer from localized reactions on their hands, back, knees, arms, or legs. My reaction has always been contained to the skin around my eyes. In fact, in the early stages of my initial allergic reaction, I believed I was suffering from eczema because the corners of my upper eyelids became dry and flaky like this:

Or this:

When I tried to treat the eczema, the reaction got even worse because the cream I used contained MI, and I had no idea I was allergic to it! It got so bad that the skin around my eyes developed deep wrinkles and stayed red and sore, like this:

What are the odds that this will probably end up being the first photo that shows up any time someone googles my name for the rest of my life?

I struggled for six months eliminating everything I could think of until one morning I woke up and my eyes had swollen completely shut. After I was patch tested and eliminated MI from my routine, my eyes cleared up immediately, but I’m still susceptible to outbreaks when I come into contact with it – because it’s EVERYWHERE.

One of the main reasons I’m writing about this is not to complain (although I absolutely excel at complaining) or to show off these incredibly sexy and attractive photos of myself. It’s to help bring awareness to other people who (like I was) might be suffering from an MI allergy without knowing what’s causing it.

If you think you might be suffering from an MI allergy – I urge you to get patch tested by a dermatologist. It’s really difficult to diagnose it on your own.  And it’s even harder to figure out what products are causing your reactions, mostly for two main reasons. First, it’s usually a delayed reaction. So that new foundation or lotion you try may not bother you when you put it on, but you might get a rash from it three days later. To make things even more complicated, that foundation or lotion might not have MI listed in the ingredients, but it could still contain it.

Wait, what?! Don’t manufacturers legally have to tell you what’s in their products? Well, yes…but also no. Did you know that when something has ‘perfume/parfum’ or ‘fragrance’ listed as an ingredient, this could be any combination of over 3000 chemicals – and companies don’t have to tell you what they are!? Which brings me to another reason  for this post. I’ve been dealing with this allergy for over a year, and in my experience, the largest number of products that contain MI/MCI are products marketed for sensitive skin, as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’, or touted as hypoallergenic. Let me tell you something – the word ‘hypoallergenic’ is one of the most empty and harmful marketing buzz words in the beauty product business. No matter what the ingredient – natural or synthetic – it’s a safe bet that someone, somewhere is allergic to it. From that perspective, then,  ‘hypoallergenic’ means something different for every person alive, all depending on the unique needs of your own body and skin. 

That’s why its so infurating for myself and other sufferers of  skin allergies across the globe that ingredient transparency is not a priority for manufacturers and companies. Knowing the exact ingredients in the products you use gives you control of your allergy (and the knowledge and ability to avoid ingredients that cause these allergies in the first place). Until that happens, I suspect I’ll continue to have flare-ups and horror movies eyes even when I’m doing my absolute best to avoid MI.

Again, if you’re reading this because you think you might be allergic to MI/MCI, I encourage you to get patch tested! I’m a doctor of pop music, not dermatology – so you really should speak to an expert. If you’re not allergic, I urge you to pay more attention the ingredients in the products you use – I really wish I had!

If you’ve already been diagnosed with an MI/MCI allergy, give me a shout – we can commiserate and swap suggestions for products to use! In the meantime, The Body Shop has a blanket policy of avoiding MI/MCI in its ingredients, including the fragrance! It’s also worth checking out the  Methylisothiazolinone Victims Facebook group, which has been  an absolute lifesaver for me.

JSYK: This post was published three years ago. I’ve recently written an update about this allergy, and you can find it here.

15 thoughts on “Maladies, Melodies, Allergies”

  1. This is a helpful blog. I am so sorry you have this allergy but so thankful you found the problem. Are their any safe cosmetics or face cleaners you can use or have found? I would love to know.

    Also you are a fantastic writer:)

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  2. Thanks so much, Bridget! That’s so nice! ❤ I’ve mostly been using cosmetics from the Body Shop. Their Moisture Foundation is really nice and really buildable. I also use their mascara, moisturizers and other things. It’s a bit of a free-for-all when I go in because I know that I can use anything in the shop! Haha.

    As far as face cleaners, I absolutely love Ocean Salt from Lush. Some of the products at Lush (from what I understand) are not ideal for MI allergies, but as a company they’re really good at getting back in touch if you ask about their ingredients, and the formula for Ocean Salt apparently doesn’t use any MI!

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  3. That’s my rash!! I’m just starting down the rabbit hole regarding this stupid around the eyes rash and what’s making it happen!!! 42 and I’ve never been allergic to anything! So frustrating. Adding MI to my list for the dermatologist. I’m wondering if it’s mainly sunscreen related for me. I live in Hawaii.

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  4. Hi, I actually stumbled at ur page when I was searching about this thing that just appeared around my eyes. And it might be allergic to MI as well. Im just wondering wht did u use to relieve the sting and itchiness? Thank you

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    1. Hi Mei! I’m so sorry for such a slow response – my blog has been on the back burner for a while and I didn’t realize anyone had commented! I hope you’ve managed to get things under control by now, but I found that using hydrocortizone ointment really helped. (But if your rash is around your eyes like mine, definitely talk to a dermatologist or pharmacist first because it can thin the skin where you use it!) I hope you’re feeling better!!

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  5. Thank you for this post, your eyes look like mine…. Same red rash! I will ask for a patch test for this, I am realizing it is in a bunch of soap products in my house… Extra rinsing and rubber gloves for now

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    1. Hi Catherine! Please forgive me for not getting back to you sooner! I’m so sorry to hear that you’re having to deal with this allergy too. It’s bonkers how many soaps and cleaners I had to throw out when I first realized I was allergic – it seems to be everywhere!! If you need any help trying to come up with other products to replace stuff with, just let me know!

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  6. Thank you for sharing your journey. It is helping me immensely. I know you wrote this almost 3 years ago – – how are you doing now? Just curious . . .
    Julia

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    1. Hi Julia! Thank you so much for letting me know it’s helped you! It’s such a pain to have to deal with. At the moment, I’ve found products that work well for me and my skin has mostly gone back to normal. Every once in a while I’ll have a flare up – usually because I can’t resist trying a perfume sample even though I know it’s trouble. Hahah. Or from other things that can’t really be helped like sitting with my elbows on a restaurant tabletop someone sprayed down right before I got there. But I’m lucky that my reactions are so few and far between these days. It will definitely get better if you’re able to weed out all the things in your daily life that have MCI and MI in them!

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  7. Reading this was so relieving to me. I’ve been breaking my head trying to figure out what this unsightly rash around my eyes was due to. Thank you!! My rash was almost identical to yours with the deep wrinkles. Wow! I’ve always had “sensitive skin” and couldn’t use certain products and I’m almost certain this is my issue. I’ll be getting tested soon. I’ve been using aquafor because it gets SO dry around my eyes. It’s so annoying. I already have dark circles , so throw in a rash and it’s not pretty! 😭 I’ve currently been having a flare up for the last 2 weeks almost. I’m so over it 😞

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    1. Oh, gosh! I wish I could give you a hug because I totally understand how frustrating and upsetting it is! (And I’m right there with you with the dark circle thing!!) I’m glad you’re getting tested – it really is the best way to get it all solved and to know exactly what to stay away from (because sometimes the allergy to MCI/MI goes hand-in-hand with other allergies, which is annoying. Hahaha.) If you need any help with anything, please feel free to get in touch. I really hope you feel better soon and the flare-up calms down sooner rather than later! ❤

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