Many of us buy beauty products to feel and look our best, but a growing number of doctors believe it is those very same beauty products that are responsible for an alarming rise in skin allergies.
Doctors in the UK have raised specific concerns about products containing preservatives known as methylisothiazolinone (MI) and methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI).
The preservatives, also found in paint among other substances, are non-toxic and are used to retard the growth of bacteria and yeasts. As such, the preservatives are widely found in a number of products, including body lotions and skin wipes.
The problem, doctors say, is that changes to European regulations that were enacted in 2005 permit stronger concentrations of MI and MCI than had been previously allowed.
In particular, the MI preservative had previously been used in a three-to-one ratio, but now can be put in products as a stand-alone agent, meaning that there is, in some cases, as much as a 25-fold increase in MI concentration.
Dr. John McFadden, consultant dermatologist at St John’s Institute of Dermatology in London, argues that it is this change to MI quantities that has spawned an “epidemic” of skin allergies.
He is quoted by the Telegraph as saying, “Many of our patients have suffered acute dermatitis with redness and swelling of the face. I would ask the cosmetics industry not to wait for legislation but to get on and address the problem before the situation gets worse.”
The numbers affected are quite small at the moment; in 2010, Dr. McFadden’s team had only identified one case, and by 2012, they had identified 33. This number of course cannot account for milder reactions that were not reported, but it is hardly the point. It is the sharpness of increase that is most concerning.
Dr. McFadden’s team isn’t the only one to have identified a possible link either, with scientists at the Leeds Centre for Dermatology reportedly observing a 6.2% sensitivity rise over the past three years in contact allergy rates where MI and MIC is concerned.
David Orton, president of the British Society of Cutaneous Allergy, is quoted as saying that the situation is “unacceptable,” saying large patch test numbers demonstrate a rising problem: “Across the large patch test centers in the UK, data suggest that rates of allergy to these two preservatives are now nearing 10 per cent…The last time a preservative had this type of effect it was banned by the EU.”
Dr. Emma Meredith, head of scientific and technical services at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, is quoted as sounding a note of caution however, saying that while patch testing is useful, using patch testing as though they indicate wider allergic reactions isn’t necessarily sound.
This, while technically true, risks sounding rather weaselly though because if there is a rise in sensitivity cases, one would expect a rise, though not as marked, in serious reactions.
Studies have already raised awareness that common cosmetics such as lipsticks and lip glosses may contain perhaps damaging levels of lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum and other metals.
While none of the above can yet offer a concrete link between MI or MCI and the rise in allergies reported by Dr. McFadden’s team, specialists will present these findings to the British Association of Dermatologists’ conference in Liverpool this week where they will say that MI and MCI levels in our beauty products should at the very least be drastically reduced.
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