The preservative methylisothiazolinone (MI) is used in some cosmetics and household detergents and products and can cause severe allergies.
Here is a brief introduction to the problem, plus a short list of MI-free products.
If you’re looking for additional information, including on the diagnosis of MI allergy, labelling laws, and a more extensive database of products, then you may be interested in my site, Methylisothiazolinone Free. It covers not only suitable cosmetics for skin and hair, but also household cleaning products (for kitchen, bathroom, laundry, glass and furniture), wall paints, pet care products, and much more.
For more in-depth information, you may also be interested in my new book, Living with Methylisothiazolinone Allergy (pictured right).
The MI Story
In 2013, two dermatological organisations issued warnings about a relatively new ‘epidemic’ of allergy to MI — a preservative present in wet wipes, skin creams, washing up liquid, sun care, fabric conditioners and many more household cleaners and personal toiletries.
Despite calls for a ban from some quarters, it seems industry has been moving towards only a partial ban (on ‘leave on’ products — i.e. skin creams) and continuing to permit use in ‘rinse off’ products at a low level (0.01% or less) which experts believe should not cause sensitisation to MI. This should, in theory, halt the epidemic. However, those already sensitised will have to continue to read labels on products such as household detergents, shampoo and shower gels to avoid it. The ban in ‘leave on’ products, such as lipsticks, moisturisers and body lotions, does not yet apply everywhere, most notably in the United States. It does apply in Europe.
It seems those with eczema are more susceptible to sensitivity to MI (and other isothiazolinones, such as methylchloroisothiazolinone — or MCI), and as those with eczema are more likely to be atopic, they’re also more likely to have food allergies. It’s possible that those who experience reactions to skincare products and put them down to the food ingredients often found there, may actually be reacting to non-food ingredients — such as fragrances (such as linalool, geraniol, eugenol etc) and preservatives such as MI.
If you think you might be one of them, do not self diagnose. See a doctor or dermatologist who can, if relevant, refer you for patch testing to identify the culprit.
Avoiding fragrances and SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate) may also help if you have skin sensitivities.
MI-free Household Cleaning Brands
The following brands avoid MI and other isothiazolinones in ALL products.
Attitude (US / Can) / Attitude (UK) — laundry / fabric softener / household detergents.
Bio-D (UK) — household / bathroom cleaning and laundry / dish washing.
Eco Me (US) / Eco Me (UK) — all natural and SLS free; wide selection of products.
Ecostore (Australia / New Zealand) —
Greenshield Organic (US) — also free from parabens, SLS/SLES, ammonia and more.
Mangle & Wringer (UK) — natural and MI-free household cleaning.
Rockin Green (US) — eco-friendly house and laundry (SLS / parabens free).
NB. Even brands which make natural, ‘gentle’ or environmental claims may use MI in some products, so beware. Among them are Ecover, Earth Friendly Products / ECOS, Seventh Generation and Mrs Meyer’s.
MI-free Cosmetics Brands
For MI-Free Cosmetics brands, see MI Free’s Cosmetics page.
For hair dyes, colours, shampoos and conditioners, see MI Free’s Hair Care page.
Thank you for raising this on your site . After years of suffering I have now been diagnosed as having this allergy . It is life changing as there is no avoidance possible !
Really pleased you've a diagnosis – but avoidance is possible! I'll be adding links to this page soon – but some of those above can help. Good luck 🙂
For me the only way to avoid it is staying at home in my safe zone , if I go out and mix with the general public , I react , I was so thrilled to find out my allergen after all these years , but I am now over sensitive to it , I am not sure when it will settle down for me , just hugging someone who has used washing powder with it in can make me react , utensils used when out will too , I miss my active life , no gym no swimming either as my throat don't like it . I do have an immunology app at last ! But don't now hold out much hope .
Sorry, Christine – only just noticed this comment as I was updating the page. That does sound grim. MI does turn up in so many household laundry products. Hope the appointment gave you some further answers and guidance?
I am allergic to Methylsothialinone and Methylchrosotialinone and I am in need of a carpet shampoo without these two allergens. Does anyone know a product? I have been looking in all dry cleaning shops but they all have both allergens in the shampoo they hire with the carpet cleaner.
Carpet cleaners are particularly tough to find. There's one listed on the MI Free site – by Home Scents. Find it here: http://mi-free.com/household/other-household/
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I am finding it really hard to find any products currently that are safe for me…its all trial and error. I have an allergy to methylisothiazolinone and perfume/parfum just when i think i find a product without MI in it has parfum. As above going out and about causes reaction what with the various smells and chemicals in use even walking down the laundry aisle shopping breathing in the airborne scents causes a reaction. Any advice/reviews on what people have tried and tested would be great!!
Sorry to hear you’ve had so many issues.
Have you checked out my other website – http://www.mi-free.com – for recommended products? All are MI-free – but of course some will have parfum in them.
Some laundry detergents here are fragrance-free – http://mi-free.com/household/laundry/ – but also check out Ecover Zero.
Cosmetics: Green People have a fragrance-free range.
I wrote a piece on fragrance-free conditioner here: http://mi-free.com/fragrance-free-conditioner/
Also JASON fragrance-free products, mentioned towards the foot here: http://mi-free.com/are-products-for-sensitive-skin-safe/
It’s unlikely you’re sensitive to all fragrances, so a patch test may be useful in pinpointing exactly which ones.
Thankyou for the information i will look into that..I have had patch testing that is what diagnosed my MI and parfum allergies…as you know there are many different scents out there, i have tried many products currently MI free but with parfum and have yet to come across one that doesnt irritate me, i have also tried some essential oils that are 100% pure and again have struggled with these currently there is only lavender i have found to not cause a reaction and tea tree so i tend to stick with these for now, laudry washing i use indian soap nuts they are ok but not good on stains its mainly body products and shampoo that i struggle to find..im just testing faith in natures fragrance free range thankyou so much though i will look into all the links you provided regards paula
Parfum is sometimes natural essential oils and is sometimes synthetic fragrance (and is sometimes a mix) but allergies to natural products are just as likely as allergy to synthetic products, so 100% pure is unlikely to make any difference. (In fact, synthetic fragrance – made without the troublesome chemicals that trigger reactions in essential oils – can be better, when it comes to allergy.)
If you don’t react to lavender it’s quite a good sign, as lavender contains quite a few fragrance allergen compounds – geraniol, limonene and linalool – which you should therefore be OK with.
Yes, I’d forgotten about Faith in Nature – an accessible and affordable brand. Also look at Mir Skincare – a niche brand, but entirely fragrance-free, which looks very sincere – http://mirskincare.com
All the best, Alex.
I am overwhelmed with all of this information. I had patch testing done last week and discovered that I am allergic to MI/MCI, Bronopol(2-Bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol), oxybenzone (2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzophenone), methyldibromo glutaronitrile/phenoxyethanol, and iodopropynyl butylcarbamate. Everything I’m reading about these allergies, it seems I’ll have to live in a filthy little bubble, as I can’t clean myself or my home with pretty much anything. One of these allergens is even found commonly in food packaging and studies have shown that it leaches into the food as well. So what am I supposed to do now? I have had a successful cleaning business for upwards of 10 years, and my husband and I have five kids at home that I have to take care of. The “safe products” list that the dermatologist gave me has products that I either cannot find at my local stores or are so far outside of my price range as to be laughable.
That sounds tough, Sabrina. Which country are you in? For MI/MCI products see http://www.mi-free.com. MDBGN is banned in the EU (but not in US – though not much used there). I don’t know anything about Bronopol, oxybenzone and IB, I’m afraid, and unfortunately phenoxyethanol is quite common in natural products.
I think the advice would be to ‘strip’ everything down to bare basics. Wash with the simplest of unfragranced soaps (a simple olive oil soap). Moisturise with a plain body oil or body butter (eg shea / cocoa butter – no added fragrances). Clean home using traditional cleaners – vinegar, baking soda etc.
I would also consider joining an allergy charity – Allergy UK if you’re in the UK – as they have support which you can access.
Thank you so much for responding. I am located in the US and I didn’t even realize that there were such things as allergy charities that could help! Do you happen to know of any over here? I’ll poke around the Allergy UK site a bit and see what I can find. I posted about it on my Facebook page as well and, although my friends are dear, it has made me realize how very little is still understood about allergies such as this…many of my friends suggested just using gloves (which I would totally do), but the “safe list” they printed out for me shows only three brands of gloves that have none of the allergens in them…and they are all at least $30 for a box of 50-pair, single use. And with everything I tested reactive to, I would have to wear them nearly constantly. It’s crazy. I want to know more about this and about why there are so little resources or recourse for having my life horribly affected by a man-made chemical that I never asked nor agreed to being added to everything I use to keep my family and home clean and healthy. It is just so infuriating.
Almost forgot to say thank you so much for your suggestions on products to use! It gives me a more realistic starting point. I went to the store yesterday to buy dish soap and laundry detergent and do you know what I found in a giant store full of products to choose from, armed with my “safe list”??? Exactly ONE laundry detergent and ZERO dish soap that I can use. Like I said…very overwhelming.
You’re more than welcome. Happy to try to help.
Try AAFA – http://www.aafa.org
It will get easier – you will gradually find ‘safe’ products, one by one, and then soon you’ll have replaced everything. It’s just overwhelming at first when you have to spend so much money and make so many changes.
Some brands are willing to send out small ‘samplers’ of products because spending eg $30 for something which it then turns out you can’t use as you react to it, is very frustrating and expensive – so don’t be afraid to ask.
Facebook has lots of specialist allergy groups. The Mi-Free.com site I referred to above is mine, and I have a Facebook page Facebook.com/mifree – I will post a link to this post there later today and ask for other suggestions – many of my readers have multiple allergies and are based in the US so may know more about the local ‘market’.
all the best, Alex.
I’m so sorry you are going through this challenge. In the US, there are a few companies that carry products that have never used MI (or other isothiazolinones) in any of its products. I am a health coach that teaches classes on toxin reduction and I have several clients with confirmed MI allergies. I work to make others aware of it, so they can reduce exposure and avoid triggering a sensitivity. I have found most doctors, pediatricians and even dermatologists still haven’t heard of this class of chemicals.
I recommend Pure Haven and Poofy (both online only) for personal care, cosmetics and cleaning products. Both of these companies have exceptionally high standards for toxin free products, so you also avoid any carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. To make it more affordable, I recommend people use their soaps and shower gels in foaming soap dispensers where they can mix them with water. It not only dilutes them for you, making them for cost effective, but it also helps to create the lather to which we are more accustomed.
In terms of laundry soaps, I recommend powders over liquid. You are less likely to encounter harmful preservatives with powders because they are more shelf-stable. Molly’s Suds (can be purchased directly from the company, on Amazon, or in local health food stores) is the highest rated laundry detergent on the EWG website and is free of MI. The powder laundry detergents from Pure Haven and Norwex are also used safely by my clients with MI sensitivities. In terms of dishwashing liquid, I’ve found people can safely use Better Life Unscented (can be found at Whole Foods). A word of caution about Better Life — not all products in that company’s line are free of MI, so you must always read labels. There is also a dishwashing liquid from Pure Haven that is 100% toxin free.
While Beauty Counter is also free of MI, there are other ingredients in that line that aren’t desirable. For example, it often uses phenoxyethanol and soy that isn’t always non-GMO. Plus, most people find it far too expensive to fit into their budgets ($30 for a small bottle of non-organic baby wash).
You can find online blogs for making many of your own products like deodorant, toothpaste and lotion. As for cleaning, there’s a lot that can be done with vinegar, baking soda, and peroxide. We mainly clean with microfiber and water at my house. The microfiber mechanically picks up and removes things from the surface. That’s all we use for windows and mirrors. I trust you will quickly find your way to a group of products that work for you and keep the rest of your family safe from being triggered. Wishing you the very best.
I ended up making a lot of our cleaners and detergents, because of the cost and availability.
This site is bullshit I just looked up the actual ingredients of the Ecover products recommended and they all have MI in them they are NOT MI free products get your facts straight you jerks!!!! There are plenty of people out there that are looking for genuine MI free as we are or have someone who is actually diagnosed allergic to this chemical. My daughter is allergic to MI and it’s been a very time consuming journey to find products she can use. MI free means no MI at all not even your acceptable 0.01% can be in any product recommended. Do better research in the future you jerk!!! As all the MI allergic are only one bad recommendation away from hospital if we follow your advice.
I think it’s you who needs to do better research. All the products mentioned are MI free. If you’d like to specifically identify – on the Ecover website – which products contain MI and which are also recommended on this post, then please do so. Further abuse will be deleted and furthermore result in you being barred from commenting on this forum. Alex Gazzola, Editor, Allergy Insight.
Jerk. Gosh, Jackie, you must be American… It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it. It costs nothng to display a little decorum when challenging another.
Hi Ecover Zero seems to have Methylisothiazolinone in. I may be confused but thought from what is written above that you said they dont? Can you get back to me please to clarify. Ive just found it on their list of ingredients.
Which Ecover Zero product? There are several. Are you UK or US? Can you send me a link (if you’ve seen it online) or send me a picture if you have it with you. Ways of contacting me here: https://www.allergy-insight.com/about/
Sun & Earth is NOT MI FREE. Don’t make the same mistake I did trusting this blog and buying it.
Hi Dudu. Sorry about this. I’ve now removed Sun & Earth. Unfortunately the post is three years old and content dates, so I would always advise checking prior to purchase. Isothiazolinone preservatives only appear to be used in a few Sun & Earth products, but I’ll contact them to see what the current policy is. Best wishes, Alex Gazzola, Editor, Allergy Insight.