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.
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.