Doctors call for preservative chemicals to be removed from cosmetics after allergic reactions
Cosmetics causing an epidemic of allergies: Doctors urge firms to remove preservatives from products
Chemical methylisothiazolinone (MI) can cause severe skin reactions
Several cosmetics companies are removing the chemical urgently
Allergic reaction rate to MI is ten per cent, normal is one to two per cent
By SEAN POULTER
PUBLISHED: 00:01, 18 September 2013 | UPDATED: 13:42, 18 September 2013
A chemical used in hundreds of beauty products is being blamed for a massive rise in dangerous allergic reactions.
Cosmetic giant Johnson & Johnson says it is so concerned, it is taking the chemical out of its best-selling Piz Buin sun cream and other products.
Molton Brown is doing the same and big brands such as Nivea, L’Oreal, Clarins and Sanctuary are under pressure to take action as doctors say adverse reactions to the chemical have reached ‘epidemic proportions’.
Skin experts say manufacturers should urgently remove the chemical, a preservative called methylisothiazolinone (MI), from products that are left on the skin. It can cause rashes, lumps, blisters, itchy eyes and facial swelling.
In one case, a woman’s head and face swelled up so much that doctors feared she would have trouble breathing without urgent treatment.
In another, a British holidaymaker’s skin became so inflamed that she spent two days in a Spanish hospital and needed steroids and antihistamines to calm the allergic reaction.
MI is a preservative designed to extend shelf life, and has no useful properties for users of the products.
Experts say the scale of the allergic reactions to the chemical, which has been used increasingly since 2005, is alarming. Dermatologists expect an allergic reaction to a cosmetic product of 1 or 2 per cent, but clinics say the rate for MI has been more than 10 per cent.
Leading 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 industry.’
BBC Watchdog featured MI on an earlier program
Sophie Holmes, a 26-year-old marketing executive from South London, said she needed steroids to reduce the swelling and inflammation that flared up after using Piz Buin sun cream.
Miss Holmes began to feel unwell as she drove back from a skiing holiday in the French Alps.
‘It started to swell in my face and in my neck, and so I went straight to A&E in London,’ she said. ‘They prescribed me with steroids to reduce the swelling as it was a worry it was restricting my airways . . . and could become fatal.’
Tests later revealed that she had an allergy to MI.
Concerns about the chemical will be highlighted tonight by the BBC Watchdog programme, which has been contacted by more than 150 people who have suffered skin reactions to the Piz Buin product.
Johnson & Johnson insists that Piz Buin 1 Day Long is safe and effective and it will not be recalling bottles from the high street, but it will be changing the ingredients.
The firm said the product ‘contains only permitted ingredients at levels well within EU standards set by regulators’.
A spokesman said: ‘Many substances in our daily life, including ingredients in cosmetic products, may cause irritation in some people with a particular sensitivity.
‘This applies to MI, a preservative used to protect products from spoiling, which is found in many consumer and household products. We are continuously seeking to improve the effectiveness and consumer experience of our products.
‘As part of this process we are currently updating Piz Buin 1 Day Long and, from summer 2014, a new formulation that does not contain MI will be available in the UK.
‘We have stopped using MI in new leave-on products, and existing leave-on products are being reformulated over time.’
Molton Brown is removing the chemical from its products from this month.
A Nivea spokesman said MI was an approved preservative in the EU for use in cosmetic products, and that all of its products containing the preservative have been ‘subject to an expert safety assessment and release by our company toxicologists’.
Clarins said: ‘Our customers and their safety is our No 1 priority. All of the ingredients used in our formulas are approved by the European Commission and their safety has been carefully reviewed by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, which consists of European Commission toxicologists, dermatologists and experts.
‘However, it is inevitable that someone, somewhere will be unable to tolerate a particular ingredient or combination of ingredients. Clarins is committed to providing the safest products with the highest quality ingredients.’
A spokesman for L’Oreal said: ‘Methylisothiazolinone (MI) is a preservative widely used in various industries and in cosmetic products to ensure their safety.
‘Preservatives play a vital role in the protection against contamination by microorganisms. Without preservatives, bacteria, yeast, mould and other organisms could develop, leading to product deterioration, spoilage and potential health and safety issues.
‘Preservatives are regulated by cosmetics legislation in Europe and a list of permitted preservatives is followed to ensure preservatives used in cosmetics are safe. Consumer safety is our first priority and we are working with the industry to better understand the concerns raised about MI.’