Using hand sanitizers for people who want to avoid common infectious illnesses has been a feature of modern life for some time. However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has made these compounds a necessity. Consumers are purchasing a significant quantity of hand sanitizers for work, home and recreational activities. Generally, people use these products with confidence that they will protect them against disease. New research has found that not all of these sanitizers are safe for use. Here are a few current facts about hand sanitizers that you should know before purchasing them for family use.
Do Hand Sanitizers Actually Protect Us From Infectious Disease?
Bacteria and viruses are a natural part of our environment. However, some of these pathogens can cause disease. The bacteria and viruses may be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces or by normal actions, such as talking, coughing, sneezing, shaking hands or just breathing. Hands are the most frequent vectors for disease because we touch surfaces constantly. We also touch our own faces a lot, rubbing our eyes, scratching an itchy nose or just leaning our heads on our hands. But these actions can also help bacteria and viruses get access to our bodies. Hand hygiene works to protect individuals from disease by breaking the chain of carrying the bacteria and viruses from one person to another and one surface to another. Health experts recommend frequent hand washing, but when soap and water aren’t available, a hand sanitizer can help to kill bacteria and viruses that make people sick.
What’s In Hand Sanitizers That Kill Germs?
Hand sanitizers use alcohol as an ingredient to kill bacteria and viruses. They may also contain water, glycerin and fragrances. Generally, any hand sanitizers with 60 percent or more of alcohol will be an effective measure for killing these pathogens. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found that many hand sanitizers imported from Mexico and other countries contain traces of methanol, and not ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol. Although methanol is in the same category of alcohol, methanol is chemically different than either ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, with a higher toxicity that can pose some dangers for use in products.
The Problem of Methanol in Hand Sanitizers
Methanol has the ability to be absorbed through the skin, especially in children, which puts individuals at risk of developing high levels in the body. In addition, methanol vapors can also be inhaled into the lungs and be absorbed into the bloodstream. Hand sanitizer products are often packaged in containers that look like a consumable liquid, which has led to accidental ingestion of the product and methanol poisoning.
Symptoms of Methanol Toxicity
Individuals who have absorbed or ingested methanol may begin to show symptoms of toxicity. These symptoms may include dizziness, headaches, weakness, nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances and loss of consciousness. High levels of methanol toxicity can cause blindness and death. If you experience any unusual symptoms after using hand sanitizers, seek medical attention and bring the product with you to determine whether there are any toxic ingredients in its composition that are contributing to the condition.
Choosing A Non-Toxic Hand Sanitizer
The FDA recommends consumers choose a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol. Products that contain less than this amount of alcohol may be ineffective against the coronavirus. Purchasers of these products should read the labels carefully to ensure that they are getting the appropriate amount of protection, to avoid putting themselves at risk for viral transmission. Unfortunately, some products may not list methanol as one of the ingredients, which is why the FDA has published a list of hand sanitizers to avoid. The list of methanol-containing hand sanitizer products is available at the FDA website.
Hand Washing Is Still Your Best Defense
The FDA still recommends thorough hand washing as the best defense against COVID-19 infection. Given that safe hand sanitizers are not always available, they are reminding the public that hand-washing remains an effective method of protecting against transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and they should continue to use this method as their primary means of self-protection. However, when you can’t get to soap and water, hand sanitizer is considered the second best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 transmission and other infectious pathogens.
A commitment to frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water can help to halt the spread of diseases like COVID-19. Hand sanitizers also have a place in helping the public protect themselves from contagion. Unfortunately, appropriate hand sanitizer products are not always available on store shelves. The supply chain may ebb and flow as companies experience increased demand in various areas of the country during outbreaks of the coronavirus. Consumers should read labels carefully before purchasing hand-sanitizing products, to ensure they are not exposing themselves and family members to hazardous chemicals.