Not only in baby wipes: Methylisothiazolinone allergy causing eczema

The overuse of preservatives in skin care products can cause serious eczema rash in those with an allergy

Not only in baby wipes: Methylisothiazolinone allergy causing eczema

A news story caught my attention this week. Some brands of baby wipes containing methylisothiazolinone are causing a severe eczema rash on some babies and children. While both my boys (F ’09 and M ’10) have eczema, it wasn’t so much concern over them that made me watch the news story. When they showed a picture of a little boy with a terrible, red, scabbed rash around his mouth it reminded me of me.

My rash was never as bad as that poor boy’s, thank goodness. But the red and cracked skin around my mouth is painful and embarrassing. I also have a red, itchy rash around my eyes and a psoriasis-like rash on my hands. So I went to the internet to find more information.

What I found was so enlightening that I feel both violated by manufacturers and hopeful that I may have found the cause, and therefore the cure, of my face and hand rash.

(I would like to state now that the following is a personal account of my history and internet research. This is not a medical journal and should only be read with the intent to further investigate on your own. If you suffer from similar rashes, do speak to your doctor.)

About three years ago a number of chemicals used as a preservative in personal care items were outlawed because they were causing contact dermatitis. Many manufacturers of personal care products then started increasing the use of three other preservatives (isothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone and chloroisothiazolinone). Trouble is these preservatives are causing even WORSE cases of contact dermatitis. The chemicals provide a longer shelf life but serve no other purpose for the consumer. The use of “MI”, the common name for methylisothiazolinone, has been banned in Canada and there is discussion in Europe about banning it as well.

When I first went to my doctor a few years ago about my severe rashes, the first question she asked was “Are you using any new products?” Since I wasn’t she assumed I had atopic dermatitis which can be caused by any and all irritants (even rubbing your own skin) and gave me three different prescriptions to use (one for hands, one for my eyes, and another for my skin). The ointments helped a little but not much.

methylisothiazolinone allergy eczema rash

The skin around my eyes was red and puffy. And, while I expect some wrinkles at 41 years old, the rash caused severe wrinkling defying my age.

Turns out it was the products that I have been using for YEARS (I’m very loyal to my brands!) that changed. Having known this, my doctor could have easily diagnosed me with contact dermatitis (which is, as it sounds, caused by things that come in contact with your skin). We would have come up with a plan to remove the irritants from my daily life and— voila!—I would have been cured three years ago.

That very day that I first saw the news story, I took an inventory of everything that I use on my body. Then I went around the house and looked for these chemicals. THEN I went to the store and read A WHOLE LOT of ingredients lists and bought all new stuff.

I now have a new shampoo and I replaced the body wash I use on my boys, which ironically had been recommended because of their eczema. The “free and clear” clothing detergent was replaced with Method (yes, even products labeled “sensitive” and “free and clear” may contain these irritants). I’ll also be replacing our dish soap but not yet. Every single one in the store contained the naughty chemicals or didn’t list their ingredients at all. So I have a bit more research to do on dish soap.

[More info on the "free and clear" laundry detergent we use: One version does have the chemical (All Small and Mighty 3x Concentrate Liquid), another does not (All 2x Ultra Liquid). So it pays to read the ingredients labels carefully for each individual product. You may be able to replace a favorite product with something very similar.]

What bothers me most about all this is that the manufactures KNOW about this problem. They relabeled their products “New Formulation!” three years ago but didn’t bother to note that some of the ingredients may now cause their consumers severe, painful and embarrassing rashes. An acceptable allergy to an ingredient is 1-2% of the population. The allergy to MI may well be over 10%. (from The Daily Mail) And–bonus!–managing this allergy is nearly impossible with topical and oral antibiotics and corticosteroids.

Dermatologist Dr. Ian White, from St Thomas’ Hospital in London, said: “The frequency of reactions to MI is unprecedented in my experience. We’ve never seen anything quite like it. Contact allergy to this permitted preservative is now of epidemic proportions. Immediate action needs to be taken by the industry.”

I started my “chemical diet” only a few days ago with freshly washed bedding and new soaps in the shower. I did not expect any immediate changes since allergic reactions like the one I have can last for many weeks even after the irritant is removed. I must say though, so far so good. My hands appear to be healing. I don’t have to put Aquaphor on my mouth as often and the painful cracks in the corners have disappeared. And my eyes are doing much better as well. I thought the stinging in the shower was from the warm water on my sensitive eyes. But for two days with new shampoo, they’ve been sting-free.

While I’m very grateful I just happened to see the news report about the baby wipes, I do think they could do a better job reporting the whole story. If the media took on the epidemic of contact dermatitis caused by these chemicals maybe more people would find some relief. And maybe the manufacturers would stop using these, ultimately, useless ingredients.

photo credit: e y e / s e e via photopin cc

Jen Conlon

I am a Connecticut-living, 41-year-old stay-at-home mom to two boys, F (’09) and M (’10). They are the cutest, funniest, smartest kids I know. Good thing too since they have also propelled me into the most difficult thing I know, parenting…read more

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About Jen Conlon

I am a Connecticut-living, 41-year-old stay-at-home mom to two boys, F (’09) and M (’10). They are the cutest, funniest, smartest kids I know. Good thing too since they have also propelled me into the most difficult thing I know, more More Posts

20 Comments to “Not only in baby wipes: Methylisothiazolinone allergy causing eczema”

  1. I totally agree…we also have taken out all manufactured cleaners, detergents, soaps, etc. I make all my own. Essemtial oils are being used for many health issues (lavender for cuts & bruises instead of neosporin), etc. my kids ask for oils now if they hurt themselves! My free & clear detergent works better than any one I’ve ever bought! There’s a lot to be said about the increase in chemicals used in the items we use daily & increase in health conditions. I love that I can replace a lot of these chemicals with natural things and save a ton of money at the same time too :)

    • Michele, you are so right! We are fortunate to be able to either make our own products or seek out ones that don’t have these chemicals. I’m going to look into making our clothing detergent soon.

  2. sadly . . . the baby wipes issue is not limited to babies & children. I must admit . . . my husband & I both use the wipes as an added cleansing routine. we range in age from 50-70. I had noticed, over the past couple of years, that my behind gets very irritated {to say the least}. itchy & painful just aren’t enough to describe it!! I can only imagine the torture of the babies & young children unable to verbalize their discomfort.

    when the report hit the news, I immediately did my own research on-line & then evaluated our “butt wipes” & there it was . . . the dreaded methylisothiazolinone!! I stopped using the wipes right at that moment & happy to report . . . no itchy & painful rash within 12 hours!! it’s ALL gone! your experience has encouraged me to look further around my home for other products that I need to replace.

    be on the look out for adults coming forward. luckily from some reviews I have read from Huggies . . . they have been aware of this issue {way before the recent report came to light} & a new recipe is suppose to hit the shelves “later this month”. we’ll see what happens!

    • Carley,

      I so happy that you were able to get relief from removing the wipes from your routine. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    • :-) You’re very welcome!

    • Seriously, Walmart needs to educate their employees? As long as the “new” and old formulas have the same barcode, they will be stocked in the same location. This will continue to happen until all the old formula is depleted from all the warehouses in all the stores on the planet. You need to pay more attention. And yes, I use Huggies to wipe my bum, and I’m allergic too!!

  3. any follow up to this story? How are you doing since changing your routine?

  4. happy to report changing the wipes has solved our issues. Huggies now has a new improved formula in at least one of their flavors. I was able to find the “New! our simplest formula ever” in their Natural Care wipes. by chance I found them in the health & beauty isle at Wal-Mart. I picked up two {different package patterns} for our two bathrooms. unfortunately . . . Wal-Mart needs to educate their associates!! only one of the packages I purchased was the “new” formula which I did not realize until I got home. the next time I went back I grabbed a correct package. both of the package patterns were all stacked together with no separation of the two formulas. I also checked in the baby department near the diapers & I found that NONE of the Huggies wipes that were stocked in that location were the “new” formula. Again . . . Wal-Mart needs to educate their associates. I can also report that the large refill package was not yet available in the “new” formula but I’m sure they will be soon.

    Pampers Sensitive wipes will pass the test but we do not care for the texture of the wipes. they are much too “cottony” & roll in your hand while wiping. Yuk!!

    the cheaper Wal-Mart Equate brand will also pass the test of no harsh chemicals.

    • I’ve heard of lots of moms making their own wipes too…very easy and all natural ingredients. Lots of recipes on Pinterest :)

  5. Seriously, Walmart needs to educate their employees? As long as the “new” and old formulas have the same barcode, they will be stocked in the same location. This will continue to happen until all the old formula is depleted from all the warehouses in all the stores on the planet. You need to pay more attention. And yes, I use Huggies to wipe my bum, and I’m allergic too!!

  6. Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with this irritating sensitivity. My hands breakout into sores and blisters, while I’ve had to be treated with antibiotics for cellulitis. Please continue with your informative articles and hopefully corporations will illuminate these harmful chemicals.

  7. Eliminate

  8. Oh, I wish I see one of those articles years ago as well. I’ve been struggling with the itchy eyes and eczema for years… only to find out it the cause were my favorite cosmetics and baby wipes (!) I have posted about it couple of weeks ago, with images of my cracked eyes and itchy patches on skin. The healing process is slow (probably because it took me so long to figure out the cause) but I blame doctors for not recognizing the problem in a first place and giving me story about dry skin around my eyes due to weather….

  9. Thank you for using your blog as a forum to increase awareness. I, too, have an allergy to MI. I have to take my own hand soap with me everywhere I go. People at work look at me like I’m crazy when I refuse to touch the disinfecting wipes or put on gloves when I have to use cleaners. I blogged on this topic also –

  10. Have you tried Lemongrass spa products? I think you’ll love them.

  11. Yes, thank you for reminding us that we have to read all of our product ingredient labels prior to purchasing and using. Even brands that are labelled green or eco friendly can contain chemical preservatives such as MI. I have changed all my household products with chemicals to chemical free now. FYI, I have seen MI in several of Method’s dish detergents. I was sooo disappointed. I use castile soap liquid instead. Let us know what you ultimately change to.

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