MI: still a sensitive issue

“Every cosmetics product on the market in Europe is safe to use,” announces the comforting blurb on the website of cosmetics trade organization Cosmetics Europe.

However, ongoing alarm about the use of methylisothiazolinole (aka MI or MIT) proves that some ingredients might be a lot safer to use than others.

MI recently hit the headlines when Cosmetics Europe recommended beauty manufacturers eliminate the preservative, found in baby wipes and shower gels, from their products. The move came in the wake of experts reporting that MI is linked to a steep rise in cases of eczema and contact dermatitis in the UK.

But the problem goes much further than that – with dermatologists (not a professional group known for scaremongering) claiming that MI was causing an allergy epidemic.

In fact, Dr John McFadden, consultant dermatologist at St John’s Institute in London, said the problem was on a scale “not seen before in our lifetime”.

But while the potentially irritating effects of MI might be news to some unsuspecting consumers, it’s a well-known fact among beauty industry insiders.

“The industry has known for years that MI is a skin irritant,” says Sarah Brown from natural brand Pai Skincare.

“Many brands made a calculation that an increase in allergic reactions to their products was preferable to using parabens.“

And although Cosmetics Europe’s announcement seems like tough talking, Brown believes that consumers could still be in danger from MI.

“Cosmetic Europe’s recommendation to discontinue MI does not constitute a ban,” she says.

“Some manufacturers are promising to phase out the ingredient, but reformulation can be a lengthy process so consumers will need to be vigilant for many years to come.”

Brown also advises that MI may continue to be used in international formulations of the same products.

“Simple, for instance, doesn’t use MI in Europe but its same products in Canada do contain it,” she says.

Yet again, this is an example of the cosmetics industry insisting that the chemicals they use are 100% safe – until suddenly they’re not.  And it’s this lack of transparency – and worries about the allergic effects of common chemicals – that is driving more people towards the natural market.

“Allergic reactions to synthetically formulated personal care products is the reason many consumers cite for having made the switch from their usual high street, mass-produced brands to independent, natural and organic formulations that tend to be more suited to sensitive skin types,” confirms natural beauty PR Tracey Robinson.

And for those that believe the synthetic cosmetics industry is being wholly responsible with its not-quite-ban – consider this: the move only covers products that stay on the skin, not wash-off lines such as shower gels.

Could it be that they’re more interested in protecting members’ interests than eliminating known allergens? It’s definitely a sensitive issue…

Matt Chittock is a freelance copywriter and editor of The Natural Beauty Yearbook