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By Lisa Sigell

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A mysterious rash that has many people searching for answers could be coming from products used daily including ones labeled “hypoallergenic” and even “gentle.”

The rash changed the life of Shannon Howe of Long Beach who says that prior to being tested for an allergy to methylisothiazolinone or MI, she was living a “nightmare.”

She says she couldn’t work for the past year or even wash dishes without gloves due to her red and painful hands.

“It’s kind of like I’ve dipped my hand in acid. Kind of. It just has that burny, itchy feeling all the time. They’re constantly cracking and bleeding and I wear gloves to bed,” said Howe, who explained that she’s embarrassed.

“It makes me very self-conscious and like even shaking people’s hands, it makes me feel like, ‘Oh God. They’re probably going to think I have some kind of gross disease’ or ‘They’re gonna catch something,’ ” she said.

Howe said she had gone from doctor to doctor and had test after test done but was still provided with no answer.

“Even the dermatologist was like, ‘I don’t know,’ ” Howe said.

Then, a friend showed her a Facebook page of people with rashes just like hers.

“I’m like, ‘What is it that you’re allergic to because I have the same thing?’ ” she said.

From hands and faces to necks, the people pictured were diagnosed with an allergy to common preservatives found in many cosmetics, cleansers, and household products.

“I started looking through all of my products in my house and I have all this stuff like literally in every room in my house,” she said.

What surprised Howe even more were that the ingredients in many products marked “natural,” “gentle,” or even “hypoallergenic.”

The culprit for many are methylchloroisothiazolinone/methylisothiazolinone (in combination known as MCI/MI) or methylisothiazolinone (by itself known as MI).

Dermatologist Vincent DeLeo of the USC Keck School of Medicine says the preservatives have been used for years in so many products used daily.

“They’re thought to be good products and in fact they are if you’re not allergic to one of the components,” the doctor said.

For those who are allergic, however, the allergy can be severe.

“It can be very debilitating,” said DeLeo pointing to results from a patch test conducted on another patient. “And if it involves your hands, then it’s particularly bad because you can’t do what you normally do.”

DeLeo says that several years ago, there was concern over rashes being caused by baby wipes and some other products resulting in some companies deciding to change their formulas but not all.

“Lots of sunscreen products, for example. Lots of baby wipes. Lots of shampoos. But it’s still in many products,” the doctor said.

DeLeo says it’s “Buyer Beware” and that there are no rules over what can be labeled natural, sensitive, or even hypoallergenic.

“It actually has no legal definition so any company can call something ‘hypoallergenic,’ ” DeLeo said.

The doctor says it’s important to remember that allergic reactions to this are rare but if one does result in a severe rash, one should get patch testing.

Howe had a patch test conducted and was positive to an allergy to methylisothiazolinone or MI, an ingredient in so many of her products.

“All the redness was gone. The swelling was gone,” said Howe, who says she’s doing better and is using medication for a flare-up.

“Now it’s just avoiding that chemical. It’s really hard because so many products have it in there,” said Howe, whose hands look better.

DeLeo says standard tests don’t always cover both MCI/MI and MI by itself and recommends asking one’s doctor if the test they use covers both. He also recommends talking with your doctor if you believe you have this allergy.

Finally, DeLeo says consumers can develop an allergy to the preservatives — which are used to prevent fungus and bacteria from growing in the products — even after years of using the same product.

Click on the following links to find a doctor for patch testing:

American Contact Dermatitis Society
American Contact Dermatitis Society: Directory Search Form

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