Handwashing and using hand sanitizer are some of the specific measures that public health experts recommend to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. However, with the explosion of the sale of hand sanitizer in response to the pandemic, companies who have not traditionally been producers of these products have jumped into the market in order to keep up with demand and take advantage of the opportunity.
As with all supply chain-dependent products, however, ingredients have become scarce, and in some cases, substitutions have been made which are unsafe and untested.
The Food and Drug Administration has been issuing warnings since the summer, alerting consumers to certain hand sanitizers that contain products which are considered toxic. While the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control have consistently stated that alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and those in a concentration of 70 percent or higher are most effective in combatting COVID-19, some products have been shown to contain methanol, “a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested and can be life-threatening when ingested,” according to the FDA.
Methanol, when absorbed through the skin, is toxic to humans. There have even been cases reported of adults and children ingesting hand sanitizer, leading to blindness, hospitalization and death.
The FDA is also concerned about a recent development in hand sanitizer marketing whereby food and drink containers are being used for the sanitizer.
Said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. via a press release by the FDA, “I am increasingly concerned about hand sanitizer being packaged to appear to be consumable products, such as baby food or beverages. These products could confuse consumers into accidentally ingesting a potentially deadly product. It’s dangerous to add scents with food flavors to hand sanitizers which children could think smells like food, eat and get alcohol poisoning.”
The FDA is warning consumers that it has found hand sanitizers are being packaged in beer cans, children’s food pouches, water bottles, juice bottles and vodka bottles. The FDA has also found hand sanitizers that contain food flavors, such as chocolate or raspberry and fears consumers, especially children, will confuse the items with food.
The FDA has been issuing steady warnings about contaminated hand sanitizers, and has ramped up testing of products to ferret out toxic ingredients. A recent discovery was of the substance 1-propanol in a hand sanitizer manufactured in Mexico. There are many types of alcohol used in consumer products.
However, only ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol (also known as 2-propanol) are acceptable alcohols in hand sanitizer. Other types of alcohol, including methanol and 1-propanol, are not acceptable and can be toxic to humans. Also, some hand sanitizers to not contain the recommended level of alcohol deemed to be effective in preventing the spread of the disease.
The FDA has issued a do not use list for hand sanitizers. Consumers can look up any hand sanitizer at www.fda.gov/handsanitizerlist. The list is updated regularly as new test results are released by the FDA.
As of this writing, 203 hand sanitizers are on the list including those sold at companies such as Dollar Tree, Walmart, and Target. It is suggested to bookmark the list in your web browser so that you can check each hand sanitizer before using it. If a hand sanitizer you have is on the list, it is recommended to not use it and instead treat it like hazardous waste.
Do not flush or pour the product down the drain or mix it with other liquids. Since the FDA issued the list mid-summer and consistently updates it, retailers may have removed some of these recalled items from their shelves, though it is recommended consumers still check the list
Some retailers are starting take-back programs for these items and consumers should call their local stores.