Hand Sanitizer Heads-Up

Drug News from Preferred Medical …

Since it appears that COVID-19 is going to impact our daily lives into the foreseeable future, continuing good hygiene basics makes sense. Practice social (more accurately, physical) distancing and wear a mask when that is not possible or is required by government, do not touch your face, cover coughs and sneezes, and wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds. The last is interesting because if soap and water is not available the recommendation is to “use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.”

However, apparently not all hand sanitizers are created equal. In fact, some are potentially dangerous. Which means you need to read the label, just as you should with every prescription or over-the-counter drug or supplement you ingest. And not just read the label but understand it. In this case, it is important to scan the label for both an ingredient and a manufacturer.

The FDA’s webpage specifically dedicated to hand sanitizers, last updated on July 2, lists a total of 55 products that have been tested and found to contain methanol (also known as wood alcohol, a substance often used to create fuel and antifreeze). Likely, other products also have this ingredient but have yet to be tested by the FDA. Some of the manufacturers involved include:

UPDATE on July 11Per USA Today the list is up to 59 products, which means this list will be ever-expanding. Mexico appears to be the primary source.

Our two primary takeaways:

  • What is not supposed to be there: Most hand sanitizer products include ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol). Unfortunately, there is a “sharp increase” in products that instead “tested positive for methanol contamination.” Methanol can be “toxic when absorbed through the skin as well as life-threatening when ingested.” In fact, the FDA goes as far to say, “methanol is not an acceptable active ingredient for hand sanitizers and must not be used due to its toxic effects.”
  • What you are not supposed to do with it: It’s uncertain why some people would decide to “ingest” (drink) a product that includes “hand” in the name, mentions “for external use only” in the instructions, and has the distinct aroma of alcohol. The FDA has evidence that both adults and children have done so which led to “adverse events including blindness, hospitalizations and death.”

So as you are stockpiling hand sanitizer for the second wave of COVID-19 or the regular cold and flu season that peaks between December and February, understand the product and follow the instructions. Exactly what you do for your medications. Hopefully.