In an advisory from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in late June, officials said that nine brands of hand sanitizer have been tested and found to contain high percentages of methanol (AKA wood alcohol), which should not be used due to risk of toxic effects when its absorbed through the skin or ingested.
“FDA tested samples of Lavar Gel and CleanCare No Germ. Lavar Gel contains 81 percent (v/v) methanol and no ethyl alcohol, and CleanCare No Germ contains 28 percent (v/v) methanol,” according to the June release. “Methanol is not an acceptable ingredient for hand sanitizers and should not be used due to its toxic effects.”
On July 2, the FDA updated to warn there was a “sharp increase in sharp increase in hand sanitizer products that are labeled to contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol) but that have tested positive for methanol contamination.”
The sanitizers found to contain the ingredient include those manufactured bt Eskbiochem SA de CV in Mexico including:
- All-Clean Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-002-01)
- Esk Biochem Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-007-01)
- CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 75% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-008-04)
- Lavar 70 Gel Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-006-01)
- The Good Gel Antibacterial Gel Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-010-10)
- CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 80% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-005-03)
- CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 75% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-009-01)
- CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 80% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-003-01)
- Saniderm Advanced Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-001-01)
- Grupo Insoma’s Hand Sanitizer Gel Unscented 70% Alcohol (NDC: 75744-0200-3; 75744-0200-4; 75744-0201-5; 75744-0202-1; 75744-0250-1; 75744-0250-2; 75744-0500-1; 75744-1000-1; 75744-1000-3; 75744-1001-1)
- Transliquid Technologies’ Mystic Shield Protection hand sanitizer (NDC: 75477-435-02; 75477-435-10; 75477-435-12; 75477-435-25; 75477-435-50; 75477-534-10)
- Soluciones Cosmeticas SA de CV’s Bersih Hand Sanitizer Gel Fragrance Free (NDC: 75165-003-02; 75165-004-01; 75165-005-01; 75165-006-01; 75165-008-01; 75165-250-01; 75165-600-01)
- Soluciones Cosmeticas SA de CV’s Antiseptic Alcohol 70% Topical Solution hand sanitizer (no NDC numbers listed)
- Tropicosmeticos SA de CV’s Britz Hand Sanitizer Ethyl Alcohol 70% (NCD: 76676-402-01; 77676-402-02; 77676-402-03; 77676-402-04; 77676-402-05; 77676-402-06; 77676-402-07; 77676-402-08; 77676-402-09; 77676-402-10; 77676-402-11; 77676-402-12; 77676-402-13; 77676-402-14; 77676-402-16; 77676-402-17; 77676-402-18; 77676-402-19; 77676-402-20)
According to the FDA, people exposed to hand sanitizers with wood alcohol/methanol should immediately get treatment to potentially reverse any toxic effects. They note that exposure to the chemical can lead to “nausea, vomiting, headaches, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent nervous system damage or death.”
According to the agency, they are mostly concerned with ensuring that consumers understand that drinking hand sanitizer is dangerous under any conditions — but wood alcohol/methanol contamination can be more life-threatening. And it’s made more troubling by the cutesy packaging that can make the products appear like something someone could consume.
“Products packaged to appear as drinks, candy or liquor bottles, as well as products marketed as drinks or cocktails because their appearance could result in accidental ingestion or encourage ingestion,” according to the FDA. “Children are particularly at risk with these products since ingesting only a small amount of hand sanitizer may be lethal in a young child.”
They also note that there’s a number of products that are “fraudulently marketed” with FDA approval (there are no FDA approved hand sanitizers!) and that a number of products on the market are ineffective or make false claims about what they can do.
“Certain hand sanitizers that may not contain a sufficient amount of ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol” and “Hand sanitizers that are sold or offered for sale with false and misleading, unproven claims that they can prevent the spread of viruses such as COVID-19, including claims that they can provide prolonged protection (e.g., for up to 24-hours)” were also highlighted as concerning.
This announcement comes after the demand for hand sanitizers had lead to individuals DIY-ing it and seeking just about any bottle they can find that follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for sanitizers to contain 60 percent ethanol. So it makes sense that officials are urging people to be cautious and mindful of the ingredients in the products they buy.
“FDA remains vigilant and will continue to take action when quality issues arise with hand sanitizers. Additionally, the agency is concerned with false and misleading claims for hand sanitizers, for example that they can provide prolonged protection such as 24-hours against viruses including COVID-19, since there is no evidence to support these claims,” according to the the FDA. They also recommend good old fashioned hand-washing (20 seconds!) with soap and water, which is a safe and thorough way to clean your hands and kill germs.
This is a developing story. A version of this story was published June 23 2020 and updated July 7 2020.
Here are the kid-safe hand sanitizers we’re recommending you pick up if you’re running low: