Hand sanitizer has become an integral part of the COVID-19 health toolbox, especially when soap and water is not available. However, some brands of hand sanitizers pose a new threat to our health.
Increased demand during the pandemic has caused shortages of well-known U.S. brands, and now many new companies are selling hand sanitizer products that contain methanol, commonly known as wood alcohol.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has recalled and imposed import bans on dozens of brands found to contain the toxic chemical. It also is working with major retailers to pull those products off shelves.
Methanol exposure, primarily from swallowing it, can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness or damage to the nervous system, and even death.
Of particular concern are young children who may accidentally ingest these products, as well as adolescents and adults who may drink them as a substitute for liquor products made from ethanol.
"For their health and safety, we urge consumers to immediately stop using all hand sanitizers on the FDA's list of dangerous hand sanitizer products," said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn.
Although no amount of methanol is safe if ingested, ones sold with the label Hello Kitty by Sanrio — packaged in bottles shaped like Hello Kitty’s head and aimed at children under 6 — are especially alarming.
"The fact that this is marketed to appeal to young children is concerning because it might increase the risk that a child, if not supervised properly, could ingest it," says Dr. Jeffrey R. Suchard, director of medical toxicology at UCI Health.
"If you happen to have this product, for your future safety and that of your child, you should probably get it out of your house."
Which hand sanitizers are toxic?
Almost all the products recalled or banned by the FDA were manufactured in Mexico. Many of them have been sold at such national retailers as Walmart, Target, Costco and Sam’s Club, among others.
“Unfortunately, there are some companies taking advantage of the increased usage of hand sanitizer during the coronavirus pandemic and putting lives at risk by selling products with dangerous and unacceptable ingredients," Hahn said.
"Producing, importing and distributing toxic hand sanitizers poses a serious threat to the public and will not be tolerated. The FDA will take additional action as necessary and will continue to provide the latest information on this issue for the health and safety of consumers,” he added.
The FDA's do-not-use list now includes more than 90 brands contaminated with methanol. Testing of the recalled hand sanitizers contained from 1% to 80% methanol.
The recalled and banned brands include:
- Assured (manufactured by 4E Global)
- Blumen (manufactured by 4E Global)
- Born Basic (manufactured by Real Clean)
- Clean Care No Germ (manufactured by Eskbiochem)
- Enliven (manufactured by Real Clean)
- Hello Kitty by Sanrio (manufactured by 4E Global)
- Herbicil (Broncolin SA de CV)
- Klar and Danver (manufactured by 4E Global)
- NeoNatural (manufactured by Limpo Quimicos)
- Plus Advanced (manufactured by Limpo Quimicos)
- Saniderm (manufactured by Eskbiochem)
If methanol is swallowed, call Poison Control immediately at 1-800-222-1222 or get help online.
Never drink hand sanitizer
While hand sanitizers with methanol are more life-threatening than those that aren't contaminated, the FDA urges consumers not to drink any hand sanitizer product and to ensure it is kept out of the reach of young children.
The FDA also recommends avoiding hand sanitizers that:
- Contain less than 60% to 70% ethyl or isopropyl alcohol
- Claim to prevent the spread of viruses such as COVID-19
- Claim to provide prolonged protection
- Labeled approved by the FDA, which does not approve hand sanitizers
Hand sanitizers also have their limits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends their use only when it's difficult to wash with soap and water.