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What is Methylisothiazolinone (or MI)?

As much of my week is taken up with talking to women about their skin, either because they have come in for a facial or because they want some advice about what to use (or what not to use), I can definitely say that over the last 12 months I’ve seen a big increase in the amount of people with skin reacting badly to a preservative called Methylisothiazolinone or MI for short (also sometimes called Kathon CG). Have you heard of it? It is used more now as many brands have stopped using parabens because of the negative associations around them. But MI is causing massive skin problems for endless women who end up coming to see me*.
Here’s the background:
Around 18 months ago Cosmetics Europe, the European cosmetics trade association, following discussions with the European Society for Contact Dermatitis, issued a statement recommending that “ … the use of methylisothiazolinone [MI] in leave-on skin products including cosmetic wet wipes is discontinued. This action is recommended in the interests of consumer safety in relation to adverse skin reactions. It is recommended that companies do not wait for regulatory intervention under the Cosmetics Regulation but implement this recommendation as soon as feasible.”

They feel that MI should no longer be used in leave-on skincare products but no law has been passed yet to implement this. But MI can still be found in cosmetic all over the place because, even if manufacturers want to take it out, reformulating products containing it take time to redevelop and safety test. Bad news for the many many people who have already become allergic to it, who now react to any contact with it.

The Soil Association policy director has said “There is no better time to eliminate these harmful and unnecessary ingredients from beauty products … We have seen a sharp rise in the use of MI, due in part to the negative press about parabens, but we could be in a position where consumers are unknowingly irritating their skin by simply purchasing face wash, shower gel or even face wipes from a high street chemist or high-end department store.”

Do you think you might be allergic to it? The typical symptoms are red rashes, cracked or blistery skin, itchy and angry skin, possibly swelling. If this has happened to you after using a product, you must go to your GP and if necessary get a referral to a dermatologist for patch-testing. This results in you being given a full list of all the things you should avoid.

All beauty products must list their full ingredient so if you think you are allergic to it, it is just a question of looking at the back of the product, and learning to look for it listed there. Even if you are not allergic to it, I feel it should be avoided at all costs. There are plenty of horror stories out there about what it can do to your skin, and in fact there is a whole Facebook community group dedicated to this:

Unfortunately, it is used not only in beauty products but in endless home cleaning products, including washing powders and fabric conditioners, even those that claim to be for sensitive skin. I’m not going to name names, but if you do a google search for mainstream brands that use it, or look on the MI Facebook page, you will get an idea of which of the big manufacturers use it.

So use your head before you put stuff on your head, learn to read skincare ingredients, in the same way you read your food ingredients, and learn to avoid what is bad and, in my humble opinion, avoid MI at all costs. There are so many other natural ways to preserve products.

allergic reaction to MI before and after


If you do have a severe allergic reaction to MI or any other skincare ingredient, Scratchy Balm may help to reduce the inflammation and calm the skin. I have recently had a message from a customer who is severely allergic to MI and managed to get her face under control by using Scratchy Balm – here are her before and after pictures.

If you have had a reaction and would like some advice on how to get it under control then please contact me.

*I’m not a doctor or qualified to give advice about allergies, you should always see your GP with medical enquiries.

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One Response to What is Methylisothiazolinone (or MI)?

  1. Fee Berry March 17, 2015 at 1:05 am #

    Thank you for blogging about this. I believe there are a lot of people suffering from Eczema for the first time in their 40s and 50s and who are searching around for the reason why. There are a couple of things. I do not think that all ingredients are necessarily listed on the bottles of cosmetics. In some cases the ingredients list is only for active ingredients, which may not include MI – you may have to contact the manufacturer or look on their website to establish the actual ingredients. Some Nivea products have this chemical in, as do other face and hand creams. Members on the Facebook support group for sufferers (Methylisothiazolinone Victims) have come across it in mouth wash and toothpaste as well as shampoos, conditioners. It’s is ALL washing up liquids as far as I can see except for Ecover, most cleaners, most paints, some baby wipes and cleansing wipes.

    I contacted Proter and Gamble, manufacturers of Fairy Washing up liquid, and they told me that their dermatologists say that it is OK in products that are washed off, even for people who are sensitive to it. Meanwhile there are pictures of people on the MI Victims support group who look like the victims of a severe beating, some of whom have only come into contact with the vapour from paint. It is definitely a problem for people who have the sensitivity.

    What’s more, it is being included in more and more products despite the problems it is causing. Febreze includes it. Far from withdrawing it, many formulations are being altered to include it.