Late last week (8/12/20), the Food and Drug Administration updated their list of recalled hand sanitizers, expanding it to include those containing ingredients that can cause serious injury, even death if ingested. Symptoms include confusion, decreased consciousness, and slowed pulse and breathing. This is yet another addition to the recall after an initial grouping of sanitizers were recalled for containing ingredients that could cause harm even when being used as directed (topical application). The list of recalled hand sanitizers has now grown to 149 different products.
Hand sanitizers have flooded the market since an initial shortage coinciding with the spread of the coronavirus. Companies that previously produced hand sanitizers ramped up production, while other companies (beauty and skin care companies, distilleries, and more), started manufacturing hand sanitizer in an effort to meet public and health sector demand. While the increased production did fulfill a need, some companies began producing sanitizer labeled as containing ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, but have tested positive for 1-propanol contamination. 1-propanol, not to be confused with 2-propanol/isopropanol/isopropyl alcohol, is not an acceptable ingredient for hand sanitizer products marketed in the United States and can be toxic and life-threatening when ingested. Other products have tested positive for methanol, or wood alcohol, a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested and can be life-threatening when ingested.
This puts consumers at risk. Some may believe that all hand sanitizers are safe. Individuals that are vigilant about checking ingredient labels may feel like they can no longer trust that the labels depict the reality of the contents. Another concerning ploy by some companies is the use of marketing stating their product is “FDA-approved”, since there are no hand sanitizers approved by FDA.
So what hand sanitizers are safe to purchase? First, reference this list of recalled hand sanitizers (Updated as of 8/12/2020). Keep in mind that the CDC recommends a minimum of 60 percent ethanol (also referred to as ethyl alcohol) in hand sanitizers to be effective. When shopping online stick to established websites, be cautious of those that seem to have popped up over the last few months. Whether in person or online, check product labels and look for specifics. If a product label only reads it contains a certain percentage of “alcohol” without specifying what kind, don’t hesitate to reach out to the company for more details. If specifics aren’t available, steer clear. And yet, having learned that some labels reflect certain ingredients when the reality isn’t so, consumers may be best protected by also sticking to established companies that specialize in beauty/skincare/health products.
If you are interested in making your own hand sanitizer, read this instructional post that provides guidelines for doing so. Please keep in mind that in order for a DIY option to provide the benefits of an antiseptic hand sanitizer, the percent of alcohol must still be 60%+ once the final mixture is made (containing the alcohol, some type of emulsifier like witch hazel, and aloe for moisture, for example). Use a high concentration of isopropyl alcohol (90%+ if you can find it), or a high proof grain alcohol (like Everclear Vodka which is roughly 95% alcohol, and once diluted is roughly 70-75% alcohol) to allow for the final mixture to still be within the CDC recommended 60% + alcohol content. The instructional post shares how to maintain the appropriate ratios, but please also read their disclaimer within the recipe for details on why it is vital to be mindful of the mixture you create.
Don’t forget, hand sanitizers aren’t meant to replace hand washing. They should be used only when hand washing isn’t an immediate option. When possible, wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, make sure to scrub between your fingers and thumbs, as well as around your nails.