Dermatitis & Change In Environment
An international move takes a toll on expats’ health causing a strain on their physical and emotional state induced by stress of transition. A drastic change in environments can trigger health issues. For instance, introducing ourselves to new household products and cosmetics overseas (and even back home) can cause dermatitis for those who are sensitive to chemicals. That is what happened to me.
I have been suffering from contact dermatitis on my face especially on my eyelids and forehead since my family and I moved back to the United States from overseas in July, 2016. A couple of months after my dermatitis had started and the rash had become aggravated, I saw two dermatologists. Unfortunately both of the visits ended in vain. They neither helped me with a solution to the issue nor gave me any directions to seek. A half year later, my issue still persisted.
For the last 8 months, I tried many things in desperation to figure out my skin reaction. The dermatitis got better at the end of 2016, but it started to flare up again towards the end of January 2017. The condition reached to the point in February where I did not recognize my face in the mirror. I had pink circles around my eyes with flakes and many creases. My eyes looked exactly like in the photos posted on a blog article “Harsh Preservatives Found In Many Cosmetics and Household Products” by Margot of Coffee & Vanilla.
Allergist & Tests
One day I came to realize that a specialist I needed to see was an allergist, not dermatologists. Growing up in Japan, I wasn’t aware of allergists in the U.S. since a dermatologist is a one stop for any skin issues in my home country. At my very first visit at an allergist, I had a skin test to find out if there was any environmental allergens for me. The test result showed that I was allergic to dust mites. This fact helped to some extent, but it wasn’t the main cause. My allergist said that my case was a classic contact dermatitis. She suspected that something that I had used caused the skin irritation because of the specific locations of my rashes.
The next step was to go through a patch test. After a week-long process of a patch test, the truth came to light. I tested positive to CL+ ME- Isothiazolinone. Now I know what it is, all the puzzle pieces came together.
Isothiazolinone & Methylisothiazolinone
Isothiazolinone is a chemical compound whose derivatives are used as synthetic biocide and preservative. You can find its derivatives in cosmetics, personal care and household products. On labels these preservatives may be listed as Methylisothiazolinone (MI/MIT), methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI), Kathon, or Benzisothiazolinone (BIT). (There are more names for the preservatives.)
I scrutinized my home to find all the products that contained isothiazolinone. Shampoos and conditioners were the easy ones to spot. In fact, I suspected that they were causing the irritation, so I stopped using them a couple of weeks before I was confirmed with the patch test. To my surprise I found a sun block cream, liquid hand soap, liquid dish soap, and liquid detergent with Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone in my own home. I also learned that fabric softener I used to use had isothiazolinone as well. (I now use wool dryer balls.)
Are These Preservatives Really Safe?
Epidemics of Isothiazolinone have been reported in different parts of the world. European Union banned the use of methylisothiazolinone in leave-on cosmetic products in 2016. In the same year, Canada has set out some restrictions on certain products formulated with Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone. I may be one of the minorities who developed sensitivity to Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone, but it seems that these harsh preservatives widely used may need to be verified for its safety.
The most surprising thing to me was that these preservatives are also used in products that are labeled as “natural”, “sensitive skin” and “for babies” in the United States. They are probably accurate in a sense that they are made with ingredients true to the label. However, methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone (or other isothiazolinone compounds) are added as preservatives to keep a longer shelf life of these products. When I went shopping and checked many labels, I realized that these preservatives are in so many products that my options are very limited. Now my preferred stores for personal care and household products are Trader Joe’s (I’m a fan!), Whole Foods and Marshalls (Marshals carry some of the same products that you find at Whole Foods with discount prices).
I hesitate to post a photo of myself with the rash, but here is one I took most recently. This photo shows the much improved condition of my skin compared to how it looked 2 weeks prior to this day. I could not bring myself to take photos of my skin when it was in the worst condition. This photo was taken after a couple of weeks since I stopped using a shampoo and conditioner with methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone and I started a topic cream to treat the rash. I’d say I’m half healed at this point. I just switched from a liquid detergent to powder detergent that does not have isothiazolinone and removed liquid dish soap and hand soaps with Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone from my home. My journey of treatment is still ongoing. I hope that I am not reacting to any other products and that my prolonged dermatitis will be resolved in the near future.
Preservatives That Are Used In Many Cosmetics & Household Products
EU Public Consultation on Methylisothiazolinone (MI) Ban for Leave-on Cosmetic Products Launched
Canada to restrict personal care and cosmetic preservatives
Ingredient Watch List: Methylisothiazolinone, the Toxic Ingredient That Could Cause Nerve Damage
Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone by Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
EC Introduces Greater Restrictions on Methylisothiazolinone in Cosmetic Products