I have just had someone get in touch to tell me that Ecover Wipes have just changed their formulation to include methylisothiazolinone (MI) as the preservative. I haven’t been able to confirm this myself so I will have to treat it as hearsay for now. If you know the facts please let me know. But it does raise the question as to why any company would do such a thing? MI has been in the news for provoking allergies and the permitted level has been tightened recently. It has even been banned from leave on products – though it is still allowed in rinse off products such as wipes.
The answer is that preservatives all have some kind of troublesome issues. MI causes a lot more allergic reactions than anyone would ideally choose, but every permitted preservative can cause allergic reactions. Indeed in theory anything at all can. In practice companies keep a close eye on the number of complaints they get and will, if necessary, change formulations to reduce them. This is why the preservatives that cause the lowest number of of reactions overall tend to end up in so many products. The best performers most of the time are the parabens and MI. Because of this nearly everyone comes into contact with them. And because nearly everyone comes into contact with them, if you are going to get a reaction to them you have a really good chance of coming into contact with them. You’ve also got a devil of a job trying to find products that don’t contain them.
But if you look at it from the company’s point of view they are behaving perfectly rationally. Why would you carry on using a preservative that gives you a lot of skin reactions when you can simply switch to MI or the parabens and reduce the number?
It’s a tricky problem and one that doesn’t have any easy answers. I’d be inclined to require all products selling above say 100,000 units a year to introduce an alternative variation with a different preservative system, coupled with an industry wide colour code system for preservatives so people don’t have to read the ingredient list. But policing such a scheme would be a headache, and even if you could make it work it wouldn’t prevent that many actual skin reactions.
Does anyone else have any ideas? Anyone can develop an allergy to anything at any time, so this is a problem that any of us might encounter any time.
Postscript – although my contact correctly pointed out that this information wasn’t on the Ecover website at the time of writing, I looked on the Ocado website where it confirmed that their wipes do indeed contain MI.