How to find safe hand sanitizer

Washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, advises the CDC, along with wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance from others. But recent news about illnesses and deaths linked to certain hand sanitizers has raised an important question:

How can I know that my hand sanitizer is safe? 

It may surprise you to know the hand sanitizers are over-the-counter drugs regulated by the FDA. Recently, the agency has found an increase in hand sanitizer products that are labeled to contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol) but that have tested positive for methanol contamination.

Methanol, or wood alcohol, is a substance often used to create fuel and antifreeze that is not an acceptable active ingredient for hand sanitizer products and can be toxic when absorbed through the skin as well as life-threatening when ingested, according to an FDA press release

To be safe, a hand sanitizer should be alcohol-based, containing at least 60 percent ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol. 

The FDA has compiled a list of hand sanitizers to avoid, and the agency says it will continue to test hand sanitizer products and alert the public to issues.

“All Americans should practice good hand hygiene, which includes using alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “Unfortunately, there are some companies taking advantage of the increased usage of hand sanitizer during the coronavirus pandemic and putting lives at risk by selling products with dangerous and unacceptable ingredients.”

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. Substantial methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system, or death. 

To ensure your hand sanitizer is safe, remember these tips, compiled by the Patriot-News:

  • The main ingredient should be at least 60 percent ethanol (ethyl alcohol).
  • There are cases of hand sanitizer being labeled as ethanol but actually containing methanol. If the brand is not a name you are familiar with, it may be best to avoid it.
  • Check the country of origin — many of the toxic hand sanitizers were made in Mexico.



Top resources