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):
- Liquid soaps
- Dish detergent/washing up liquid
- Laundry detergent and softener
- 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:
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:
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.