Hand Sanitizers and Disinfectants. What Works? What Doesn’t?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers not to purchase hand sanitizers with low levels of ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, which are active ingredients in hand sanitizer products.
This is the second FDA warning in as many months over hand sanitizers that the federal agency considers dangerous for consumers to use for their hand hygiene to prevent infection of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
In early July, the FDA began advising consumers not to use hand sanitizers that contain methanol, which is wood alcohol. The products do not work against the virus that causes COVID-19 and can be life-threatening when used consistently.
As the FDA issued its warning over hand sanitizers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been giving its stamp of approval on disinfectant products that are effective in killing COVID-19 found on surfaces.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol-based hand sanitizers and disinfectant products work in killing the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19. These products have been in high demand since the COVID-19 outbreak began earlier this year.
The CDC recommends handwashing with soap and water to reduce the spread of germs and respiratory diseases. When soap and water are not available, the CDC suggests using hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol.
According to the CDC, studies have found that hand sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60-95 percent are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Sanitizers with low alcohol concentration may not work well for many types of germs and merely reduce germ growth rather than kill germs outright.
In its latest announcement, the FDA said test results on certain hand sanitizers showed low levels of ethanol alcohol. Among the products listed were:
- UltraCruz Hand Sanitizing Gel Antimicrobial manufactured by Santa Cruz Biotechnology
- V-KLEAN Hand Sanitizer Gel manufactured by Asiaticon SA de CV (Mexico)
- Derma70 Hand Sanitizer manufactured by Asiaticon SA de CV (Mexico)
- CleanCare Nogerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer manufactured by Precision Analitica Integral SA de CV
- Alcohol Antiseptic 62% Hand Sanitizer manufactured by Quimica Magna de Mexico SA de CV (Mexico)
The federal agency placed these and other hand sanitizer products on “import alert,” which is the agency’s way of telling the public that a product presents safety problems. An import alert is also a way to stop products from legally entering the U.S. market.
FDA Adds Hand Sanitizers With Methanol To Its “Do-Not-Use” List
The FDA created a “do-not-use” list for consumers of well over 100 varieties of dangerous hand sanitizers that do not work in providing protection against viruses.
Besides hand sanitizers with low alcohol concentration levels, the FDA has warned about using products containing methanol or wood alcohol.
Agency officials said there has been a sharp increase in hand sanitizers, mostly imported from Mexico, contaminated with wood alcohol. The labels on the hand sanitizer say the product contains ethyl alcohol but actually contains methanol, which can be toxic when absorbed through the skin and is life-threatening when ingested.
Over the past few months, wholesalers have been pulling these products off their shelves. For instance, Walmart, Costco, and BJ’s Wholesale Club stopped selling 4E Global’s Blumen brand hand sanitizers. The Mexico-based 4E Global company voluntarily recalled several of its products after a death was associated with its Blumen Hand Sanitizer.
According to the FDA, substantial exposure to methanol can cause blindness, blurred vision, nausea, seizures, cardiac effects, and other serious health conditions. The toxic substance can also result in hospitalization or death.
Peter Pitts, former FDA associate commissioner and president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, said hand sanitizers that are not produced under the FDA’s manufacturing standards end up on store shelves because companies are “skirting around the usual steps that ensure product safety.” Selling these products is “like selling an unapproved drug,” Pitts said.
EPA Finds Certain Disinfectants Successfully Fight COVID-19
In July, the EPA gave its approval to 13 disinfectant products that are effective in killing SARS-CoV-2. Before pesticide products can legally make claims on its labels that they can kill a particular pathogen, such as SARS-CoV-2, the claim must be authorized by the EPA based on a review of data.
In early July, Lysol Disinfectant Spray and Lysol Disinfectant Max Cover were the first two products to receive approval after the EPA reviewed laboratory testing data that found the products worked in killing SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces.
While COVID-19 primarily spreads from person to person, the disease can also be transmitted when people touch doorknobs, countertops, desks, toilets, sinks, faucets, railings, and other surfaces or objects contaminated by the virus and then touch their face, nose, and mouth.
Later in July, the EPA approved 13 other products, which included Lysol Disinfecting Wipes, as effective for use against SARS-CoV-2.
CDC Prefers Soap and Water for Handwashing and Disinfecting Surfaces
Since there is no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19 or medication to cure the coronavirus, the CDC recommends hand washing and wearing a face cloth as the best ways for people to protect themselves from getting sick.
Taking these and other safety measures are more important than ever in the wake of COVID-19, which primarily spreads from person to person through droplets released when a person infected with the coronavirus coughs, sneezes, or talks. These respiratory droplets can land in the mouths and noses of people nearby, and people can inhale the droplets as well.
The droplets can also land on surfaces and objects and stay there for hours or days, which is why the CDC advises people to wash their hands after touching surfaces in a public place or after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing.