MI in Paint

MI in paint

One of the most surprising things about blogging is how much you learn.  A good example arrived in my inbox yesterday.  I have just started a newsletter for people with sensitive skin, largely because I get a lot of people getting in touch looking for information about it, and in particular sensitivity to methylisothiazolinone or MI.  This is of course of no interest at all to the 99.9% people who don’t have a problem with it, so I thought a newsletter was a good way of giving them the information they want without devoting too many blog posts to it.  But a list member drew my attention to something simply too interesting not to share it.

I am probably the worst person in the world to talk about paint formulations.  Paint isn’t much like cosmetics, but there are some common features.  We use some of the same techniques and similar raw materials.  This means that as a cosmetic chemist I sometimes run into the simple but honest folk who formulate paints at conferences and trade shows.  So I am vaguely aware that there are some paints that need to be preserved from microbial contamination.  I wouldn’t have guessed that they use MI for this purpose, but I can imagine that it would probably work quite well.  So I wasn’t surprised to hear that it is used in paints.  And if your painting technique is anything like mine, you can easily see how that would lead to problems for people with an MI sensitivity while painting.

What was much less obvious was what would happen as the paint dries.  My respondent found that she reacted to the atmosphere in the rooms once they were painted.  As the paint dried the preservative dried out as well and contaminated the air.  She did some research and it turns out that while this is a rare problem, she was not alone.  Other people had had the same experience.  She also found a solution.  The MI on the walls can be neutralised with sodium bisulphite, as detailed in a paper in the journal Contact Dermatitis.

It is a shame that the rules about disclosure of ingredients don’t apply to household products in the same way that they do to cosmetics, so people can be pre-warned of the hazards.  In fact, on a practical level I think the optimum approach would be to list preservatives and only preservatives on everything.  I find really long cosmetic ingredient listings confusing and I’m a chemist.  I am sure there are many members of the public who would much prefer it if only materials that are likely to cause problems were put on packs.  And whatever the system, it makes most sense for it to be applied universally across all product types.

But anyway, thanks to Christine for teaching me something.  If you are interested in sensitive skin and you haven’t yet signed up for my newsletter on the subject you can do so here.

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Airborne contact dermatitis from methylchloroisothiazolinone in wall paint. Abolition of symptoms by chemical allergen inactivation


18 thoughts on “MI in Paint”

  1. I too wish there was proper disclosure. It took me many years to realise that the rash on the top of my feet was linked to Mr Sheen. It only happened in summertime and one day I noticed that the spray settled out onto my bare feet. Sure enough, 48 hours later (typical allergic response time) the rash developed. I contacted the company and the spray contains colophony to which I am allergic. Problem solved. But it would have been SO much easier if the can had been labelled.

    Thanks for the interesting post. I quite like it when you go off topic.

  2. Tonight, 14th May, 14, I was watching Tv when their was an item about a rash a woman had on her face after using paint purchased at B & Q. I had been using B & Q emulsion paint and when I got out of bed I had a deep red rash on my throat and chest. I was quite worried about it as it was bad. However, I treated it with Eumovate. I have been left with red spots on my chest which will not heal so far. I would not have suspected the paint but for the item on TV. All windows were open.

    1. Hello John, that does sound like an MI reaction. But there are other ingredients in paint so it isn’t conclusive unless you get a patch test. Sensitivity to MI is nowhere near as widespread as you’d imagine from the coverage on Watchdog.

  3. Hi Colin. I have just been tested positive for MI and have literally just had the whole of the downstairs of my property painted!! I have sore red patches of dry skin all over my face and the top half of my chest. You say that the paint can be neutralised with Sodium Bisulphate. Can this be treated after painting, what is the process and how does this work? Any help and information that you can give me will be massively appreciated.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Bonnie,

      I have never done this myself – I have passed on everything that I was told in the blog post.

  4. phillip barnby

    I’m a painter and decorator and have a allergy to MI. I have purchased some sodium bisulphite after reading this article.
    I’m planning to mix it in with the paint to see if it works.
    It’s used for balancing ph levels in swimming pools. I found it on ebay listed as ph down.
    I currently have to take anihistamine,wear a mask and barrier creams.
    I’ll post my results once I have tested.
    Thanks for posting the information, it could possibly make my life so much easier if this works!

  5. phillip barnby

    Just an update. The sodium bisulphite didn’t work.
    I was able to mix it into emulsion paints without any problems. Unfortunately when I patch tested myself I still reacted, It also turned the water based gloss into a lumpy texture!

  6. Hi, Colin, ” She also found a solution. The MI on the walls can be neutralised with sodium bisulphite, as detailed in a paper in the journal Contact Dermatitis.” – could you please send a link to your source? Thank you!!!

  7. Hello Colin, I sure hope you’re still updating your page! Do you know how long after painting a room is safe for someone with allergies? My new apartment was painted today, we are moving in a week and I wonder if that’s enough time or do I need to try to neutralize. Thank you!

  8. Hello all – I have an MI allergy and have reacted to redecoration before, it took around 3months to cure properly and was a total nightmare. I am currently going through it again in our new home so am intending to move out temporarily as my chest is so tight and I have blisters all over my face. Lovely. I wondered however if I would be safer with wallpaper? I am thinking I’d be allergic to the paste but as I won’t be applying it, I wonder if that cures/ dries faster? Anyone know/ tried this? I’m in talks with Lakeland paints who claim to have as low levels of MI as is possible but I cant believe so many people are forced to inhale this poison; allergy or not.

  9. Do not use Dawn dish detergent. Palmolive ORANGE only is free. I find it is easier to call the number on the product. They are nice to help. Soft hand soap is free . All free and clear is free and now my clothes detergent.

  10. Daniel Brandkamp

    Hi Colin, thank you for your tireless work within the MI and MCI allergy domain, it’s the most helpful blog site I’ve come across. I need to paint my house in 2 weeks and wonder if there are any paints you know about in the UK which are free from these horrifying chemicals as I’m extremely allergic and have been hospitalised before. I have no idea how to go about this other than taking a 2 week holiday. Any info would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Sorry Daniel, I am afraid I don’t and unlike cosmetics there is no requirement for them to be listed, even though they often do.

  11. @Daniel – I am the lady who had the paint reaction late last year. Next week we are redecorating our lounge using exclusively Lakeland paint and gloss work products (and wallpaper) – fingers crossed its better as Dulux and Farrow and Ball really trigger my allergy.

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