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There’s been a sharp increase in sanitizers that claim to use ethanol, but instead have methanol—or wood alcohol—in them, according to the FDA.
Hand sanitizers, almost right up there with masks as a must-have item during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), are suddenly not such a must-have item. At least many of them aren’t. The sanitizers have come under scrutiny by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and 87 of them have been declared toxic, by that federal agency. There’s been a sharp increase in sanitizers that claim to use ethanol, but instead have methanol—or wood alcohol—in them, the FDA said in a statement.
Methanol can be toxic when absorbed through the skin and can be life-threatening when swallowed, which can sometimes happen if little children get a hold of the dispensers.
“Methanol is not an acceptable ingredient for hand sanitizers and must not be used due to its toxic effects,” the FDA says. “FDA’s investigation of methanol in certain hand sanitizers is ongoing. The agency will provide additional information as it becomes available.”
Recent incidents of swallowing hand sanitizers by both adults and children have led to hospitalizations, blindness, and death. Some of the hand sanitizers on the list are sold nationwide at large retailers such as Target and Walmart.
“Consumers who have been exposed to hand sanitizer containing methanol and are experiencing symptoms should seek immediate treatment for potential reversal of toxic effects of methanol poisoning,” the FDA states. “Substantial methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death. Although all persons using these products on their hands are at risk for methanol poisoning, young children who accidently ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol (ethanol) substitute, are most at risk.”
The FDA’s watchdog stance when it comes to hand sanitizers became particularly important to public safety when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines for hand hygiene in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC recommends using alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR) “with 60-95% alcohol in healthcare settings. Unless hands are visibly soiled, an alcohol-based hand rub is preferred over soap and water in most clinical situations due to evidence of better compliance compared to soap and water. Hand rubs are generally less irritating to hands and are effective in the absence of a sink.”
The CDC also notes that the FDA “allows for ethanol or isopropyl to be used as the active ingredient in ABHR manufactured by entities that are not currently registered with the FDA to manufacture drugs.”
Here is a list of potentially toxic hand sanitizers, according to the FDA: