This time of year is always peak period for allergies in UK, but doctors are warning the British population about a different skin allergy epidemic which is caused by preservatives found in household cosmetic products.With high pollen counts and warm dry weather, it is hardly surprising that doctors are making announcements warning the population about outbreaks of allergies which are sweeping across the UK. But besides the obvious annual hay fever and plant allergies, many doctors are actually referring to a different kind of allergy altogether: a contact skin allergy which is a reaction to a preservative used in a wide array of common water based cosmetic products like wet wipes, cleansers, shaving foam, and - especially worryingly - sun cream, which is used in abundance at this time of year.
The cause of the allergies are preservatives known as MI and MCI/MI (acronyms for the chemical names: methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone/methylisothiazolinone). Both preservatives are added to personal care products because they are effective for stopping growth of bacteria and yeasts. In the UK it is estimated that up to 10 per cent of the population is affected by the allergy which causes patients to suffer from red and itchy skin. Recent reports from doctors and dermatologists across Europe indicate that products containing these substances can also cause more serious allergic reactions like acute dermatitis with redness and swelling of the face.
This is not the first time that doctors have spoken out against the health implications of products produced by the cosmetics industry. In 2005, another preservative known as methyldibromo glutaronitrile was linked to a rise in the number of Eczema cases, and since then, doctors have been closely monitoring the number of allergy cases reported and pushing for tighter legislation against the manufacturers of products which come into contact with the skin.
Doctors and dermatologists believe that the main cause for the dermatitis and recent sensitivity to these and many other cosmetics is the increased concentration of preservatives. For example, according to regulations which were put in place in 2005, the MI preservative can now be used in measures 25 times stronger than before 2005. Experts are convinced that there is a link between these higher levels and the skin allergies, and have called for the European Commission to investigate.
As far back as January this year, the European Society of Contact Dermatitis wrote a letter of complaint to the EC, to ask them to take "urgent action" to protect people from the preservatives which are causing unnecessary harm to potentially millions of citizens across Europe. While no legal action has been taken, doctors feel that enough time has passed for manufacturers to change the chemical component of their products and remove the harmful levels of methylisothiazolinone. While this could be good news for allergy sufferers, doctors fear that the companies will have got away with causing dermatitis and other health problems without accepting responsibility for their actions.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, made an announcement defending the industry. Dr Chris Flower, the current director general of association said that: "Human safety is the cosmetic industry's No. 1 priority." He made efforts to reassure the public that all of the products that have been identified as causing allergies have undergone "a rigorous safety assessment" before they are put on the market.
Some dermatology experts are not convinced, and believe that health risks are too serious to wait for a full review of the laws and for new legislation to be processed. The preservatives in question are also found in more toxic products like washing up liquid, floor cleaners, air fresheners and even paint, which is why doctors are so keen for it to be banned. Some doctors fear that unless something drastic happens to remove all related products from the shelves, then number of people being diagnosed with this allergy is only set to increase.
Doctors are not the only ones trying to protect consumers from developing allergies. Internet searches for the names of the preservatives (MI and MCI/MI) lead to a number of sites which have been created to help consumers identify harmful products that contain these ingredients. Many of the online references also provide the names of alternative shampoos, shower gels, facial creams, and sunscreens which are much more gentle on the skin. The ultimate advice from these watchdog websites is to show caution and avoid these products to protect your skin from signs of dermatitis.