The Perils And Pitfalls of Hand Sanitizer

The Perils And Pitfalls of Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizerHand Sanitizer is Everywhere

Hand sanitizer has become a central product in our lives over the last 9 months. Before the coronavirus many of us would only ever have used hand sanitizer on rare occasions – visiting a patient in hospital maybe or when clean water and soap was not an option travelling in some exotic faraway place (remember when we could do that?). But now we may be using it multiple times every day.

The best way to ensure clean hands is with a thorough wash with soap and water but the necessity now to have clean hands ‘on the run’ means we have all become very familiar with the hand sanitizer. When we purchase hand sanitizer (like most products) we accept that the product offered to us for sale on supermarket and pharmacy shelves is safe and effective. We accept that the ubiquitous bottles and dispensers at the entrance to retailers, offices, gyms, doctors’ offices (the list goes on) that we have come to know as the norm are all legitimate and approved. But how wise is this? Are we being naïve?

Recall of Products

Last week in Ireland, a brand of hand sanitizer was recalled as it does not comply with regulations governing the content and efficacy of such products. Some of the product contains methanol rather than ethanol. Prolonged use of such sanitizer may cause dermatitis, eye irritation, upper respiratory system irritation and headaches.

Methanol toxicity can result from ingesting it or from absorption through the lungs (i.e., inhaling the methanol fumes) or absorption through the skin. Absorption through the skin can be a problem for anyone, but young children are at the highest risk of this. Many schools in Ireland have been using this brand throughout their buildings since the schools reopened at the beginning of September. More than one million units of it were distributed to health service facilities across the State. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that it is aware of adults and children ingesting hand sanitizer products contaminated with methanol that has led to adverse events including blindness, hospitalizations and death.

Regulation of Hand Sanitizer

In the U.S. hand sanitizers are regulated as over-the-counter (non-prescription) drugs by the FDA but although the FDA publishes product listing information on the National Drug Code directory- which, by the way, is provided by the companies that make the drug- this listing does not mean the drug is approved by the FDA. The recommendation is that if you use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, the you should read and follow the Drug Facts label, particularly the warnings section. The FDA also makes recommendations such as specifically asking manufacturers to denature alcohol — which makes it smell and taste bad to help prevent young children from wanting to ingest it — and limit harmful impurities like methanol to safe levels. But these are is only that – a recommendation.

To help identify unsafe products, the FDA has published a list of hand sanitizers consumers should not use – FDA updates hand sanitizers consumers should not use.  The FDA recommends that before you buy hand sanitizer or use hand sanitizer that you have at home, that you should check this do-not-use list. The list runs to over 200 entries. This is obviously impractical even to do at our leisure in our own homes but standing at the entrance to a retailers, gym, office, or any building really, its simply ludricous.

Relaxation of Regulations

Due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus, demand for virus-killing hand sanitizer has grown exponentially. To help increase the availability of hand sanitizers, the FDA has issued guidance for the temporary preparation of alcohol-based hand sanitizers by some companies and pharmacies. This relaxation of the rules could surely could lead to so many problems. A rush on the production of any product can lead to multiple instances of human error, never mind the fact that it leaves the door wide open for fraudsters who have no issue bending rather than relaxing those rules.

So how can we be sure of the safety of the product we are using? One way is to look for trusted brands, those that you know you can rely on and have used in the past. Look at ingredient labels to make sure they have ethanol/ethyl alcohol or isopropyl/isopropanol as their active ingredient, not methanol.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 60 percent ethanol and 70 percent isopropanol. The FDA takes an even more stringent approach, recommending hand sanitizers be at least 94.9 percent ethanol by volume. Again, checking this is easy enough to do at home or in the store but more difficult if using a sanitizer offered at the door of a building.

Third Party Certification

asthma & allergy friendly Certification Program logo

This whole scenario is a prime example of where third party certification can make a real difference. Certification by an independent laboratory is a seal of approval like no other as it lets the consumer know that the product has been vigorously tested and only approved after meeting strict criteria. It allows the consumer to easily identify products they can trust by the presence of a recognisable logo or mark and the widespread use of third party certification results in safer more reliable products in general for the consumer.

It has no financial interest in the sale of the product and it, so importantly, distinguishes those manufacturers making compliant products from those who do not. Because the testers have the expertise, experience and the testing materials, the certification process can be cost effective and efficient.

As a consumer, in practical terms, the presence of a third party certification mark means that a reliable body has checked the product and deemed it safe. As a consumer it means that we don’t have to check through a list of 200 products to ensure it hasn’t been blacklisted. It really means that someone else has done the hard work on our behalf. Thank you third party certification people.     


Medical & Lifestyle Author Dr Anna O'Donovan

Medical & Lifestyle Author Dr Anna O’Donovan

About Dr. Anna O’Donovan – Medical & Lifestyle Author 

Anna is a mum of three children, one with allergies, and she suffers from allergies and asthma herself. She is a qualified doctor and worked as a General Practitioner and as a dentist for a number of years. She is also an award-winning author.


Key Words

hand sanitiser, asthma, coronavirus, healthy, allergies, certification, third party certification, respiratory disease, healthy home 

References and further reading

Hand Sanitiser Widely Used in Schools is Recalled Click here

FDA Updates on Hand Sanitizers Click here


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By |2021-10-11T09:46:37+00:0029 October 2020|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |Comments Off on The Perils And Pitfalls of Hand Sanitizer