Maybe this doesn’t come as a surprise, but the massive push to produce hand sanitizer has led to a few cut corners. As a result, your hand sanitizer might not work as well as it claims. Or worse, it might be toxic.
Either way, it’s not great.
The good news is, the FDA is doing its job and has been testing a wide variety of hand sanitizers for various unsavoriness. In fact, the FDA keeps a public, regularly updated list of hand-sanitizer brands and individual serial numbers to avoid, containing 135 different entries. The primary cause of concern pertains to methanol, a type of wood alcohol primarily used in things like windshield wiper fluid. It’s obviously toxic then if consumed by humans.
And while most people aren’t drinking their hand sanitizer, cases of ingestion have been reported. In fact, 15 people in New Mexico and Arizona were recently hospitalized after drinking methanol-based hand sanitizer, four of whom died. It goes without saying that drinking any hand sanitizer would make anyone sick, but methanol poisoning has a higher risk of death and debilitating symptoms than ethanol, a common active ingredient in safe hand sanitizers. Mild symptoms — which per the FDA, it’s possible to experience through hand contact alone — include dizziness and nausea; meanwhile, more severe cases can lead to seizures and blindness.
Considering the increase in hand-sanitizer use, particularly among children, it seems best to avoid those that have these risks entirely. The FDA list includes sanitizers both proven to contain methanol as well as those produced in facilities with known methanol contamination.
Notably, the list doesn’t currently include familiar hand-sanitizer brands like Purell, and all of the products to avoid have been flagged to prevent further import into the U.S. However, they haven’t necessarily been fully recalled yet, and new ones continue to be flagged each day. If you purchase a new hand sanitizer or have one that you’ve purchased over the last few months, it’s certainly not a bad idea to run the name through the FDA list.
But again, the biggest risk comes from drinking these methanol-based hand sanitizers, which hopefully won’t be a problem.