Not all fun and games: Allergen in slime causing health problems for some

But her parents became concerned about her making slime.

“Actually, it got to be a little worrisome,” said her father, Carter. “Her hands, they basically turned into old lady hands. We would go to the doctors and we’d get different medicines and it just never got any better.”

“I had like this rash on my middle finger and then it spread,” said Audrey. “I had it where there were like these little bubbles with weird stuff in it and they itched so much.”

Finally, Audrey was referred to Dr. Erin Warshaw at the Park Nicollet Contact Dermatitis Clinic. Dr. Warshaw is Past President of the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS). She said Audrey’s hands were unusual for a little girl.

“Very red and inflamed and incredibly itchy. This is basically poison ivy,” Warshaw said.

Audrey had patch-testing done, where possible allergens are placed in contact with the skin. In Audrey’s case, it included a sample of the slime she made.

The medical team at the Park Nicollet Contact Dermatitis Clinic is unique; they solve mysteries. The clinic only sees about eight patients a week because patch-testing takes many hours and three different visits, usually on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can only get an appointment through a referral from a physician.

The patch-testing solved the mystery of the rash on Audrey’s hands. It turns out she’s allergic to methylisothiazolinone, or MI. It’s a preservative in shampoos, soaps, sunscreens, cleaning products and the glue in Audrey’s slime recipe.

“Allergy to MI is a worldwide epidemic,” said Warshaw. “This preservative (MI) has replaced many traditional preservatives. And that is why we are seeing this epidemic.”

According to Warshaw, the ACDS named MI allergen of the year in the U.S., which is not a good thing. “It has been banned in Europe on leave-on products because so many people got allergic,” Warshaw said.

Dr. Warshaw and her ACDS colleagues have been tracking MI for about 10 years. That’s when manufacturers started using it in products, often as a replacement for formaldehyde. Since then, allergic reactions have skyrocketed.

“We didn’t use to see it 10 years ago,” said Warshaw. “But, because it’s being used more and more frequently, we’re seeing allergy. Ten years ago, the allergy rate was about 2 percent in patients that we tested. Now, it is somewhere between 15 and 18 percent of patients tested are positive to MI.”

Methylisothiazolinone can be found on product labels, but Warshaw said parents would have no idea it’s in the glue kids use to make slime.

“It’s hard to read labels for glue because manufacturers are not required to put their ingredients on the glue.”

To support patients with severe contact allergies, the ACDS created an app that makes it easy to shop. The doctor enters each patient’s unique allergies and it shows only products that are safe to use.

“The app is a Godsend, it really is,” said Carter Anderson. “We will take it to Target or we will take it to Walgreens, wherever we need shampoo or conditioner for Audrey. We know what she’s going to get and which ones we can’t. It’s a substantial amount of product that’s out there. So we never really have a problem finding it, just making sure that it’s on that list.”   

The good news for Audrey and other patients is that rashes from contact allergies go away pretty fast when you avoid the products you’re allergic to. In her case, MI was the culprit. She still plays with slime once in a while, but she knows she will pay a price if she does it too much.

“Yeah, like break out on my hands, itchy, dry skin, cuts,” she said.  

“Her hands now are great, they’re perfect,” her father said. “I mean, thanks to this diagnosis, she is now basically been able to get hands that look like an 11-year-old.”

People who are allergic to MI support each other by sharing their stories. One way is a Facebook page called Methylisothiazolinone Victims. There is also a book out called “Living with MI Allergy” that some families have found helpful.

And, there are slime recipes that don’t use glue, which means if you are allergic to MI, you can still have your fun making slime.