Is My Hand Sanitizer Toxic?
Consumers are right to be concerned about what’s in their hand sanitizer. As of August 10, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration has listed more than 100 (and counting) hand sanitizer products that contain methanol, a potentially fatal ingredient.
Methanol is not the type of alcohol made for drinking or even hand sanitizing. According to the EPA’s toxic substances list, methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is usually used in the manufacturing business, particularly for solvents, and is the precursor to other chemical compounds like formaldehyde. It’s a completely colorless liquid, and extremely poisonous when ingested or even absorbed through the skin. In some cases, manufacturers have listed methanol on their product labels; more often, however, labels on these banned products do not disclose the toxic ingredient. The FDA was only able to identify them through testing.
So how did methanol get into so many products at our favorite stores? According to the FDA, the source appears to be facilities in Mexico that may have either duped companies into thinking that their exported alcohol was a safe type, or companies knowingly purchased methanol alcohol, unaware of its toxicity to customers. Or, more insidiously, companies knowingly put a toxic chemical in their products.
There are two main types of topical alcohol that are safe and effective against COVID. The first is ethanol, which is the type present in alcoholic beverages. One drawback is that ethanol can be very drying to the skin.
Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) works the same way but is less drying; so, it’s often preferred. Both work by denaturing proteins and dissolving lipids, thus killing bacteria and viruses.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that manufacturers use a specific formula that includes either 80% ethanol or 75% isopropyl alcohol in aqueous solutions.
So, what do consumers need to shop for?
- If you aren’t familiar with the brand, avoid it. Use the FDA’s updated list to find those that have been deemed toxic: (https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-updates-hand-sanitizers-consumers-should-not-use)
- Check the country of origin; avoid any products from Mexico.
- Look for products that have at least 75% isopropyl or 80% ethanol alcohol.
- To counteract the alcohol’s drying tendencies, look for added moisturizers like aloe or hemp oil.