Wet wipes linked to rise in allergic reactions

Up to one in 10 people are allergic to the ingredient, research has found.
Up to one in 10 people are allergic to the ingredient, research has found.  Photo: iStock

The South Australian government has issued a health warning after a rise in allergic skin reactions has been linked to a preservative found in some wet wipes.

National figures show that 15 per cent of Australians patch-tested this year have reacted to methylisothiazolinone (MI), a preservative found in many wet wipes or baby wipes – up from about four per cent in 2005.

Lynne Gordon, the head of dermatology at Adelaide's Flinders Medical Centre, says as well as an increase in cases, some reactions are more severe, with itching and rashes lasting up to two weeks after contact with the ingredient has stopped.

A severe reaction to MI.
A severe reaction to MI. Photo: SA Government

"It usually develops two or more days after contact with the allergen," she said. "It lasts as long as contact continues and for a short time afterwards, typically one to two weeks."

MI reactions are now the most common cause of allergic contact dermatitis, and SA Health Minister Jack Snelling confirmed that doctors are seeing more cases of dermatitis. 

"Allergic reactions to MI, such as hand dermatitis, are being found in people using wet wipes, such as mothers and babies who are frequently in contract with baby wipes," he told ABC News.

The ingredient, which is commonly added to products to prevent bacterial contamination, can often be found in baby wipes, moisturisers and make-up, and is sometimes used in sunscreen, deodorants and shampoos.

Last year the Skin and Cancer Foundation revealed that up to one in 10 people may be allergic to MI.  

"These are really high rates of allergy. I've actually never seen rates as high as this," Rosemary Nixon told the ABC. "[But] there are probably more people getting rashes from this than we realise."

"If people have got a rash through a deodorant it's as simple as them just checking the bottle for the ingredient and seeing if it's present, and if it is, just buying an alternative product," Ms Nixon said.

Doctor Gordon also advises people see a skin specialist if they are concerned.

AAP with staff writers