Originally published by Parade
Earlier this month, the FDA issued a warning that a sharp increase in hand sanitizers containing the toxic substance methanol (wood alcohol) had been seen recently. Now, at least 77 hand sanitizer brands have bene deemed toxic by the agency.
Considering that methanol can cause blindness when absorbed through the skin and may be lethal when ingested, this is pretty terrifying—especially since hand sanitizer use has skyrocketed this year thanks to coronavirus. But according to Dr. Mehmet Oz, hand sanitizer demand has a lot do with how many toxic hand sanitizer brands hit the market in the first place.“The surge in demand for hand sanitizers has given rise to about 1,500 companies, with some questionable brands emerging,” he tells Parade.com. “People needed to get hand sanitizers as quickly as possible, so companies started cutting corners.”
Which hand sanitizer is best?
Because hand sanitizer is considered crucial to keeping our hands clean when there isn’t a sink with running water and soap around, banning it from our coronavirus-prevention regimen doesn’t seem to be an option. So how can you find safe hand sanitizer?
“At this point in time, it is easier to establish which hand sanitizer brands are unsafe rather than safe,” says Kevin McKie, a partner at the Environmental Litigation Group, a law group that works with toxic exposure cases. “Popular brands such as Purell and Germx are still safe, as are most other brands that are manufactured in the U.S., Canada, and China.”
Oz recommends steering clear of hand sanitizers that were manufactured in Mexico, and McKie confirms this. “At the moment, every single brand that has been recalled is manufactured in Mexico.”
When shopping for hand sanitizers, the most important ingredient to look out for in terms of effectiveness is ethanol. “The problem is that these brands are substituting these safe active ingredients with a highly dangerous active ingredient called methanol. Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is not a suitable substitute for safer ingredients,” says McKie. “Exposure can cause severe adverse effects including blindness and permanent nerve damage, and ingestion has led to death.”
Unfortunately, consumers can’t just pick up a bottle and see that the product contains methanol. “This is because the companies were criminally mislabeling the bottles to say that they contained either ethanol or isopropyl alcohol,” he adds.
Your best bet for keeping your hand sanitizer use safe? Keep referring to the FDA’s list of unsafe brands, and look out for hand sanitizers made in Mexico—with one glance at this list, you’ll see that this is where all the toxic hand sanitizers were produced.
Does hand sanitizer kill coronavirus?
Considering eliminating hand sanitizer from your life? Unless you’re truly quarantined and never leave your home, this probably isn’t the best idea. “Hand sanitizer is hugely effective,” says Oz. “Washing your hands is effective, too, but you need 20 seconds to wash them and you need access to a sink and soap.”
Oz adds that many people don’t use hand sanitizer correctly, which can make it less effective. “You want to apply a dollop to your palm, then bathe your hands in the hand sanitizer, then let them dry. You want to really rub the hand sanitizer all over your hands.”
He adds that hand sanitizers are less effective when used on hands that are very greasy or soiled, such as after handling food, playing sports, doing garden work, or camping. “I recommend keeping hand sanitizer in your bag, but wash your hands with soap and warm water if given the option,” Oz says.
What can I use in place of hand sanitizer?
Hand sanitizer alternatives and DIY hand sanitizers are all the rage right now, especially with warnings from the FDA making people wary. “Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others,” says Navya Mysore, a physician at One Medical.
Oz agrees that the only equally effective alternative out there is hand-washing. “If you are traveling around a lot during the day, you may also want to consider keeping a travel size bottle of liquid soap with you in case the dispenser is empty at the public restroom you visit. Water alone isn’t enough to kill germs.”
Finally, the very best hand sanitizer alternative is probably touching as few potentially infected surfaces as possible. If you absolutely must use a public restroom, for example, touch all surfaces (like the door) using a paper towel, and after that avoid touching your face until you can safely wash your hands again.