If my testimonial can help at least one person, I will be happy. I struggled with a very irritated, red, blotchy, and itchy skin for over two months until I figured I had an allergy to an ingredient that is present in a lot of products that we use on a daily basis. This ingredient is called Methylisothiazolinone (MI) – and according to my searches on the internet, there a lot of people dealing with this problem… In this post, I’m gonna share my story, how I found out and how I deal with it.
How everything has started…
I have combination skin and, every winter, I suffer from the freezing temperatures in NYC and, of course, from the heaters. The air inside gets very dry and that changes my skincare routine every year – lots and lots of face oils, like the rosehip one – and I also bought a huge humidifier to make sure the air doesn’t get so dry. That would usually work for my skin. But everything kinda changed in January this year, after I got back from three weeks in Brazil. Suddenly, my face was irritated, red, and blotchy. It would get very dry and flaky – usually after I showered. It felt like burnt skin and it looked like that no product was helping. It was annoying cause I couldn’t wear makeup as well cause the skin was so dry and the foundation would quickly become flaky.
I took a lot of steps over these two months. As a skincare affectionate, I quickly checked my products and I figured that it could be the new retinol I was trying. I checked some reviews and found some testimonials from people with very sensitive skin and the descriptions sounded a lot like what was happening on my skin. Bingo – I thought to myself. I stopped using the product and hoped for the best. And that’s another confusing thing about what I was going through: for some days, my skin was good and then it was bad again. And that’s what happened. Afterward, I realized it wasn’t the retinol.
Then, one day, I was checking the Insta stories from a beauty influencer that I love and someone asked her about how to deal with very dry flaky skin. “That’s what I need!”. She recommended a moisturizer from First Aid Beauty, the Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration – and I was able to get a sample at Sephora, to try before buying a whole jar. It is a great moisturizer and it really helps to fight the dryness – but not when you actually have another problem… She also recommended a method called “Slugging” that consists in sealing your skin with an occlusive agent, often petrolatum-based, overnight. So, I stopped by a drugstore to get a tube of Aquaphor and I would literally apply it all over my face before going to the bed. It barely helped. And, of course, I also used a lot of Eucerin lotion – it was one of the only things that helped to relieve the awful feeling that I had when my skin was on fire.
Of course that over these two months I also used Google a lot. I was sure that I had eczema so I bought more and more tubes of Eucerin. I also got Thermal Water, cause it really helped to relieve that feeling. At some point, I was just hoping for the end of winter to see if my skin would change with the weather. Going out was so annoying cause I was always reaching out to my purse to reapply the lip balm and a healing balm for my face. Some days, I just wanted to cry. I finally got really tired and frustrated of trying to figure out the problem by myself and I decided to see a doctor. I guess you may be asking yourself why I didn’t do it sooner. First cause I really thought I could figure it out by myself. I have a friend that always says we have to be our health advocates, we have to know our bodies and that’s what I was trying to do. Secondly, I don’t like the American health care system. Most of the time, it is focused on treating the consequences and not finding the causes. Plus, I still hate the fact that here in the USA you never know how much you’re gonna pay for a doctor’s visit, even with insurance. It is just not fair – but this is a topic for another day. After finally putting all my reservations about the American health care system aside, I looked for a great dermatologist in New York City. The reviews convinced me about this guy (whom I’m not gonna name here, cause it doesn’t matter) and I scheduled an appointment that later cost me almost $300 (after my insurance paid a fraction) and it didn’t solve my problem. It was March 2021, and I was struggling for two months with that problem.
The dermatologist visit
Of course, my skin was great on the day of my appointment. But I had a lot of pictures on my phone. The doctor was kind, I explained everything to him and the appointment lasted around 15 minutes. According to him, the diagnosis was dermatitis. And, for some unknown reason, it was very common to occur on people traveling from a warm place (Brazil) to a cold place. He told me I should not worry about it and he then prescribed me a Desonide lotion – that ended up costing me some extra $60. He also told me I should not use it for more than two weeks and that I should come back if my skin hasn’t improved – and then he would ask for an allergy test – something he didn’t considerate firsthand cause “you know, you will have to deal with your health insurance” – so now you understand when I say that the health care system here is not focused on investgating the root of the problems, right?
I went home happy and I started to use the lotion right away – and those two weeks were the best weeks my skin had since I started to have these problems. But, as you can imagine, everything was the same again when I stopped using the product – and before you ask, this is not a product to be used long-term. I was almost scheduling another visit to the dermatologist when Thiago, my husband, saw a thread on Twitter and showed it to me – “it looks like this guy has the same problem that you have, check this out”. At that point, we didn’t know, but that thread was the eureka moment of this battle.
Discovering my allergy to Methylisothiazolinone
The thread on Twitter was written by Will Hayward. Over a lot of tweets, he shared his journey trying to figure out his skin problems – everything he had experienced sounded exactly like the problems I was having with my skin. The difference is that he had dealt with that for 10 years – 10 years! Will ended up taking an allergy test and that’s how he found out he was allergic to Methylisothiazolinone. On this thread, he explained that is a preservative used in a huge range of products including soaps, shower gels, shampoos, and sunscreens.
So for years I have had pretty bad skin problems.
For seemingly no reason my face would start burning & within hours would result in horrible read blotches appearing on my cheeks and nose.
After years, I have finally worked out why. Come with me on a flakey adventure. Thread: pic.twitter.com/xHwbRRU4qy
— Will Hayward (@WillHayCardiff) April 17, 2022
That definitely rang a bell. I rushed to my bathroom and I checked my shampoo, a Pantene Pro-V Sheer Volume one. BINGO! Methylisothiazolinone was listed as one of the ingredients. And then, everything started to make sense. The worst crisis I had always started after washing my hair. I had bought that shampoo after coming back from Brazil, and I was alternating it with another shampoo I had – that didn’t contain the preservative. That could explain why my skin was good some days – the days I was washing my hair with the other shampoo – and it was so miserable other days – the days I was using Pantene.
I know that obviously, it could be just a coincidence. But, of course, I started to dig in. Methylchloroisothiazolinone is a chemical used in skin care products, household cleaners, and industrial products as a preservative. It is often used in skin care products and cosmetics like shampoo, hair dye, bleach, sunscreen, baby wipes, eyeliner, blush, face powder, makeup remover, nail polish, waxing products, soaps, baby soap, and shampoo, plus household products like laundry soap, dishwasher soap, fabric softener, cleaners and more. According to an article from Occupational Dermatology Research and Education Centre website:
“Methylisothiazolinone (MI) has been used in a range of cosmetic and personal products, including disposable wet wipes, shampoos, conditioners, body washes, moisturizers, sunscreens, and deodorants, as well as in paints, cooling tower water, and cutting oils since the early 2000s. Drs Jennifer Cahill and Rosemary Nixon, dermatologists with the Skin Health Institute (formerly the Skin and Cancer Foundation Inc), have included MI in their baseline patch test series for allergies since 2011, after European reports of increasing numbers of cases of MI contact allergy. ‘Our current rate of positive test reactions to MI to November 2013 is 11.3% (40 patients who had relevant reactions of a total 353), compared with a rate of 3.5% (15/428) in 2011 and 8.4% (38/454) in 2012’, Dr. Cahill wrote. MI is now the most common cause of allergic contact dermatitis in our patient population.”
I found a lot of articles about Methylisothiazolinone and even sources listing Methylisothiazolinone-free products and, of course, I stopped using the shampoo immediately and decided to wait and see how my skin would react. I was very hopeful! And I was right about my guess. I am allergic to Methylisothiazolinone. After quitting that shampoo, my skin has improved – until I had other two episodes and if I had any doubts about my allergy, now I’m pretty sure that I have to keep myself away from products with Methylisothiazolinone.
Dealing with my allergy to Methylisothiazolinone
I must confess: before finding out about this allergy, I never really cared about this “all-natural” movement for cosmetics and household items. Now, after dealing with a lot of painful crises related to my skin, I decided to pay more attention. But I think that at some point, I just thought that throwing the shampoo away would be the end of my problems. Unfortunately, I was wrong, of course. I had two severe episodes after finding out about this ingredient. The first was after using an all-purpose cleaner on my floor. It took me a while to figure it out – honestly, when my skin started to feel that way again, I was like: what is happening? I was thinking about every product I was using (nothing new!) and all the food I had eaten until I remembered the new floor cleaner product. Just so you know, the label didn’t disclose the ingredients and I couldn’t find it online, but knowing that Methylisothiazolinone is used on cleaning products, I was sure that it was the case. So, I asked Thiago to throw the product out and we made sure to clean the entire floor again with water, to remove the product from the floor.
Then, I realized I couldn’t just buy random household products anymore. I had to check. So, I decided just browse on Amazon and, to my surprise, a lot of clean brands use this preservative. I finally found one that is not only good for me but also safe for pets and, honestly, I have no intentions to switch anytime soon.
And not a long time after that, I realized that now I have to worry about soaps, shampoos, and cleaning products when I travel. Yep, you guessed. I had another allergy crisis. It was recently when we decided to spend a long weekend in Upstate NY. We rented an Airbnb and when we got there, I had to wash our dog car seat and I used a detergent I found under the sink. The next day, I started to feel the burn and the dryness on my skin. So, I checked the label: Methylisothiazolinone. I also checked other labels like the bathroom hand soap, but apparently, they were clean. Which was weird, cause my skin was not getting any better – and this Airbnb was located 40 minutes away from the closest drugstore, which made everything worse… And when we finally drove to the town, I completely forgot that I had to take an Advil – and not Allegra – to help my skin to heal. It was one of the worst allergic crisis I had. Besides being red, itchy and dry, my face also got really swollen. I ended up managing to buy some Advil on our way home – and it helped with the symptoms. Honestly, I was almost crying. But it took me a lot of research on the internet to find out that the hand soap in the bathroom – from Dr. Meyers – actually has Methylisothiazolinone. Surprise, surprise, there was no disclosure on the label.
After this episode, I decided to take some actions:
- I’m gonna start to carry my own hand soap;
- I will never travel without Advil – it really helps when I have a heavy reaction;
- I won’t buy any household product or shampoo without checking the labels.
And here are some of the products that also helps my skin when I have an episode:
- Aquaphor – which is basically vaselline, is the only thing that helps to calm down my lips – they get very dry when I have an allergy crisis.
- Eucerion Lotion – it helps to moisturize my skin, that gets really dry, and also soothes the skin.
- Avene Thermal Water – it relieves the burn and helps to soothe the skin as well.
- Trilogy Rosehip oil – my skin needs a lot of hydration, and I really think applying oils like this one helps a lot.
I’m really glad that my husband saw that thread on Twitter. Yes, I know that at some point, I know that I would end the shampoo and then the problem would disappear – until I had contact with the ingredient again and I would have another reaction. Or, maybe I would get back to the doctor and he would finally request an allergy test – which I know it is something painful. At the end of the day, it was really awful to have these two crises but they were different because I felt I was in control, I knew what to do and how to find out what was causing the reaction. I definitely agree with my friend: we have to be our health advocates. We have to pay attention to our bodies and care about our bodies.
Have you heard of Methylisothiazolinone allergies?
Content creator and journalist in New York City. Here, I share lifestyle, beauty, NYC tips, thoughts, and the struggles about living in the most amazing city in the world! I’m not gonna pretend to be another person: I’m a Brazilian immigrant and I think this is my soul, it is part of who I am. I hope you enjoy my content! Follow me on Instagram!