Colin’s Beauty Pages has been getting massive traffic over the last couple of days from people searching out information on methylisothiazolinone. I gather the issue has got some media coverage over in the US – which is where most of it is coming from. I don’t know exactly what form it has taken but it looks like the emphasis has been on MI containing baby wipes.
In fact I got a specific question from one recent visitor who said
But what I read said the reactions are worse now because they have upped the amount in baby wipes tremendously.
The facts are that wet wipes are one of the biggest challenges to preserve effectively. Wet wipes are also very much a mass consumption item that people buy from supermarkets. So the ‘they’ in that comment in reality refers to supermarket buyers. These are people with an enormous amount of power and influence. A manufacturer’s whole business can be affected by the decisions of a handful of people. These buyers tend to be smart and astute people. (With exceptions – try yesterday’s post on Whole Foods Banned List for an example of a truly stupid purchasing policy.)
I can quite easily imagine how a buyer might well be swayed by someone who pitched to them the idea that their wet wipe had only one preservative listed compared to the competitors two or three. It sounds like a smart decision. And in fact it is. Although most people don’t give these things a second thought when you are selling things by the million a one in a thousand occurrence matters. So if a small number of people are scrutinising packs for preservatives they don’t like, every preservative listed is a potential sales loser.
Getting back to MI containing baby wipes, there are not many preservatives that will work on their own in wet wipes. So I can see the appeal of methylisothiazolinone (MI). As I have said in a previous post, it used to be necessary to use it combination with methylchloroisothizolinione (MCI). The logic was good – MI on its own is less irritating than MCI. Both work well, so why not just use one of them? The trouble is that MI on its own needs to used at a higher level than MI/MCI. So although you are only using one preservative, you are using a lot more preservative.
This is a general rule in fact. With a bit of patience you could come up with a cocktail of lots of different preservatives that would work much better than the individual components. This would be a little trickier to manage- every ingredient on the inventory is more cost for warehousing, testing etc. But it would mean that you would get far few reactions to your products. It would also be good for the environment since you would need to make less in the first place and less would end up in water courses.
But it is a non-starter. The supermarkets wouldn’t buy it. And in financial terms they’d be right. The media much prefer a single ingredient scare story, so you’d get more bad publicity for using whatever is the bête noire de jour. There are some very clever marketing people about, but I don’t think they could sell the ‘it’s got lots of different preservatives in so it is less likely to make your skin react’ story.
And the truth is despite the media the actual number of skin reactions brands actually experience is tiny. They’d rather have none. They’d happily change the formulations to minimise skin reactions. In fact this has been done with quite a lot of success with fragrances. But because of the way we buy our groceries, allergic reactions to preservatives in personal care products including baby wipes are going to be a fact of life.