A chemical preservative is garnering lots of attention as the possible culprit behind an explosive growth of painful skin allergies, commonly referred to as contact dermatitis. The preservative is found in shampoos, moisturizers, shower gels, make-up and baby wipes.

Contact dermatitis is a skin condition characterized by the appearance of a red and itchy rash that stings and often blisters. In England, one in 12 adults and one in five children has eczema, with most cases being contact dermatitis.

The chemical in question is methylisothiazolinone, or MI, a preservative found in paint. It is used in common over the counter products to prevent the unwanted growth of bacteria and yeasts. Some of the brands that include MI are Nivea body lotion, L’Oreal creams and Wet Ones baby wipes.

“We are in the midst of an outbreak of allergy to a preservative which we have not seen before in terms of scale in our lifetime,” Dr John McFadden, consultant dermatologist at St John’s Institute of Dermatology in London, told the London Telegraph. “Many of our patients have suffered acute dermatitis with redness and swelling of the face. I would ask the cosmetics industry not to wait for legislation but to get on and address the problem before the situation gets worse.”

In the United Kingdom, the British Association of Dermatologists will be calling for a revaluation of the chemical’s safety. In the United States, MI was named the “contact allergen of the year’ this year, and one could expect that the U.S. would follow the U.K. if legal limits of MI need to be reduced.

Ramie Tritt, M.D., President, Atlanta ENT