Remember the days when we took hand sanitizer for granted? We would mindlessly squirt some into our hands when we were on an airplane. We’d pass by rows of sale hand sanitizer in the grocery store and not give a second glance. Our favorite big box stores used to sell gallons of it in convenient pump bottles, and we wouldn’t bat an eye.
Now it’s a different story. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, panic buying emptied the stores of hand sanitizer. A bottle of Purell skyrocketed in price. We began digging through our bathroom cupboards and kitchen kick drawers for forgotten bottles of old sanitizer.
Now, as inventory starts to catch up, the sanitizer industry boosts production, and beer manufacturers pivot to making hand sanitizer, the shelves are full of hand sanitizers again. It’s still a challenge to find the brands we know and love from the past. There is, however, a slew unfamiliar hand sanitizer brands on the shelves. Hand sanitizer is hand sanitizer, right? Aren’t they all created equal? Apparently not.
As of June 19, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began issuing warnings about toxic hand sanitizers. The very thing that’s supposed to keep us healthy may be dangerous. Initially, the FDA warned against using sanitizers from a brand called Eskbiochem. The alcohol used by this brand was methanol. Methanol is a toxic substance that can be absorbed through the skin.
9. Hand Sanitizer: Packaging and Denaturing
According to the FDA, there has been a steep increase in mislabeled hand sanitizer products. Items believed to have ethanol as an ingredient have been found to contain methanol instead.
Although ethanol and methanol have similar names and may look the same, they are very different. Methanol (also known as methyl alcohol) can make a person very sick and can be fatal if absorbed by the body or ingested. So, how did something so toxic get into a product like hand sanitizer? Let’s find out.
There’s no denying the need for hand sanitizers during a pandemic. Because COVID-19 is highly transmissible, the convenience of hand sanitizers can keep infection rates down. Unfortunately, the demand for hand sanitizers far outweighed the supply at the start of the pandemic. To alleviate that shortage, the FDA streamlined the process to manufacture hand sanitizers. Alcohol distillers, who typically produced drinking alcohol, were allowed by the FDA to pivot to the manufacturing of hand sanitizer.
You may consider it odd that the same company that makes gin and beer can easily make the jump to making hand sanitizer. However, it’s not such a big leap. And yet, there are a few significant essential steps that need to be performed to make safe hand sanitizer.
A few companies may have unknowingly purchased alcohol from distillers, not aware that they were purchasing methanol instead of ethanol, or a mix.
Some companies are failing to create denatured alcohol, which makes alcohol unpalatable and unfit for consumption — preventing people from ingesting it to become inebriated. Consequently, this also prevents people from consuming or using toxic alcohol. Of course, denaturing alcohol is an expensive but vital process.
In another misstep, some companies in their rush to get their product out to market may have used their previous alcoholic beverage bottles, making the hand sanitizer appear like regular alcohol.
All this confusion has led to a 79% increase in hand sanitizer problems reported by the National Poison Data System, compared to 2019. Many of the reports involve children five and younger. Not to mention, one adolescent who consumed hand sanitizer because it was in the same packaging as drinking alcohol.
8. Using Safe Hand Sanitizer
In light of this information, it would be great to have an at-home test to check for methanol in hand sanitizer. However, there are no tests that don’t require a chemistry kit. With this in mind, there are some steps you can take to keep yourself safe.