How to Know if Hand Sanitizer is Safe

If you own hand sanitizer, now is an excellent time to check the expiration date.

Now in the third year of the world health crisis, any stocked-up hand sanitizer may be expired or nearing the end of its effectiveness. Hand sanitizer expires within 2-3 years.

Before buying a replacement, there are crucial lessons learned during the global health crisis that should be considered – especially with protecting the health and safety of young children.

Uncertainty fueled consumer behavior as the pandemic began in early 2020. The race to stock up on household goods – especially hand sanitizer – resulted in shortages and barren store shelves.

To ensure hand sanitizer availability to healthcare workers and consumers, the Food and Drug Administration issued temporary authorization in April 2020 for 1,500 companies to produce hand sanitizer.

Many imported and domestic hand sanitizer brands arrived on store shelves and websites. While the available inventory eased consumers’ minds, some companies’ lack of manufacturing quality control and transparency was not immediately evident.

In July 2020, the Food and Drug Administration tested hand sanitizer brands, found contaminants, and began issuing warnings to raise safety concerns.

The challenge of eliminating contaminated products from the supply chain remains difficult. The FDA can only issue warnings; the agency cannot recall products. Manufacturers are responsible for voluntarily recalls after receiving a warning.

At the time of this writing, more than 270 tested hand sanitizers lack adequate amounts of an active ingredient or contain toxic chemicals contaminating the product.

On December 31, 2021, the FDA issued a statement:

“Alcohol-based hand sanitizers manufactured before or on December 31, 2021, and produced under temporary guidance cannot be sold or distributed by manufacturers after March 31, 2022. In addition, manufacturers must not use ethanol that was prepared under the temporary policies to manufacture a finished alcohol-based hand sanitizer product after March 31, 2022.”

Contaminants found in some brands of tested alcohol-containing hand sanitizer includes:

Acetaldehyde

acetaldehyde

Benzene

benzene

Methanol

(methyl alcohol)

methanol

1-propanol

1-propanol

These products may still be available in the supply chain.

Alcohols in Hand Sanitizer

Knowing what potentially lurks in hand sanitizer is wise to make an informed choice.

First, the government does not approve any brand of hand sanitizer.

In July 2019, however, the FDA approved three active ingredients in hand sanitizer. One is alcohol-free, and the FDA press release states, “Only ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol (also known as 2-propanol) are acceptable alcohols in hand sanitizer.”

Isopropyl, also known as rubbing alcohol, is found in antiseptics and cleaning products. Consumer products with isopropyl include hand sanitizer, automobile anti-freeze, and window cleaner.

Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) can be derived from many plant starches, including corn, wheat, grain sorghum, barley, potatoes, and from sugar cane and sweet sorghum. Most ethanol made from corn finds its way into gasoline, cosmetics, food, and alcoholic beverages.

The National Institutes of Health explains, “The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends formulations containing 80% (percent volume/volume) ethanol or 75% isopropyl.”

The agency’s statement continues, “…however, generally speaking, sanitizers containing 60 to 95% alcohol are acceptable.”

If ingested, the alcohol content at 60% is equivalent to a 120 proof “shot” of hard liquor, making 95% equal to 190 proof hard liquor.

The human body does not discriminate between alcohol made for the skin or alcohol made for food and beverages. If alcohol is absorbed through the skin repeatedly, blood alcohol levels increase.

The national poison data system can track both accidental and intentional ingestions. Sadly, children accidentally drinking alcohol hand sanitizer is reported. Adults also drink hand sanitizer containing alcohol for its intoxicating effects; reports of deaths include ingesting hand sanitizer from wall-mounted dispensers in a hospital.

Another problem with some brands of hand sanitizer includes deceptive packaging.

One incident involved a caregiver who mistakenly took a hand sanitizer in a squeezable package for a product that resembled a child’s snack. Some reported hand sanitizers are in water bottle packaging.

Other accidents include children rubbing their eyes after applying alcohol-formulated hand sanitizer resulting in burns.

Contaminants in Alcohol Hand Sanitizer

The FDA warns, “Other types of alcohol, including methanol and 1-propanol, are not acceptable in hand sanitizer because they can be toxic to humans.”

Methyl alcohol or methanol is grain alcohol found in paint strippers. Methanol contamination in hand sanitizer is dangerous – especially with accidental and intentional consumption. Science data reports the lethal dose at 60 to 250 ml, and lesser amounts reportedly cause blindness in adult humans. Methyl alcohol contamination in hand sanitizer results from poor manufacturing quality control.

1-propanol contains an additional carbon atom compared to ethyl alcohol. While this may sound insignificant, the effects of 1-propanol on the human body are 2–4 times more potent than ethyl alcohol. Ingesting 1-propanol suppresses the central nervous system resulting in confusion, reduced consciousness, a slow pulse, slow breathing, and death.

The latest warnings include acetaldehyde and benzene contamination; the most recent report is January 12, 2022. In a statement from the FDA, the warnings are:

Benzene may cause certain types of cancer in humans. Animal studies show acetaldehyde may cause cancer in humans and may cause serious illness or death. Acetal can irritate the upper respiratory tract, eyes, and skin. While the exact risk from using hand sanitizer containing benzene, acetaldehyde, or acetal is unknown, FDA recommends consumers do not use products contaminated with unacceptable levels of benzene, acetaldehyde, or acetal.

DIY Hand Sanitizer Risks

Although do-it-yourself (DIY) hand sanitizer recipes are accessible online, health experts do not recommend attempting this.

Keeping in mind that hand sanitizer is an over-the-counter drug, and if a compounding pharmacist makes a hand sanitizer based on alcohol for human use, the process requires:

  • Using only United States Pharmacopeia (USP) grade ingredients in amounts consistent with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations
  • Not adding other ingredients that could affect safety and effectiveness
  • Calculating the precise amount of alcohol
  • The workspace, equipment, and other essential instruments

The chemicals and raw ingredients may not be accessible to consumers.

Inhaling toxic fumes is dangerous, and harsh chemicals cause skin irritation.

Attempts at homemade hand sanitizer have resulted in reports of skin burns, including harm to children.

How to Know if Hand Sanitizer is Safe

Hand sanitizer is often a clear liquid. Scents added to hand sanitizer can entice children and lead to accidental poisonings from drinking it.

At the time of this writing, a contaminated brand of citrus-scented hand sanitizer made with ethyl alcohol appears to be available online through a highly recognizable national beauty supply company. There are no indications on the webpage that the product is recalled or if this product is a replacement. It is, however, discounted by 50%.

Another well-recognized national brand of hand sanitizer with ethyl alcohol includes a floral scent promoting “8-hours of moisturizing”. At a glance, one could easily mistake the moisturizer reference for germ-fighting effectiveness.

Any alcohol-based hand sanitizer is effective only when wet (20 seconds).

Flavorings and scents are avoided in hand sanitizer to improve child safety avoiding accidental ingestions, although some manufacturers include fragrances.

There is a better way for people of all ages to sanitize the body and hands.

Knowing the benefits of alcohol-free hand sanitizer is crucial, especially when replenishing expired hand sanitizer.

Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizer – a Safer Choice

During the pandemic, the science community revealed new research data backing non-toxic, alcohol-free quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) classified as organic salts. These natural germ-fighters can also be synthesized.

Products containing QACs top the government’s recommended list of surface sanitizers for restoring industries, institutions, and businesses.

Both skin and surface sanitizers can contain QACs yet are designed differently.

Do not use a surface sanitizer on the skin or hands. Also, do not use skin or hand sanitizer on surfaces.

The approved QAC for alcohol-free hand sanitizer is benzalkonium chloride (BZK).

Proven in research data, QACs neutralize 99.9% of harmful germs.

QAC-based hand sanitizers provide up to 4-hours of germ-fighting protection per application. Compared to 20-seconds with either type of alcohol, four hours of personal safety is long-term peace of mind.

Advanced alcohol-free hand sanitizer provides extreme benefits, including:

  • Child Safety

    As a long-lasting germ-fighting solution for children, water-based QAC hand sanitizers do not sting, making hand sanitizing a healthy habit. Individually wrapped alcohol-free hand sanitizer taken to school in a child’s backpack can refresh hands mid-day, providing another 4-hours of on-the-go protection.

  • Sensitive Skin

    Baby wipes, shampoo, and detergents are everyday products with QACs, indicating how mild specific product formulations are. Water-based hand sanitizers with QACs are gentle on the skin while providing long-lasting, powerful germ-fighting protection.

  • Skin Repair

    Advanced QAC-based skin repair formulations that contain natural healing aloe vera gel help with wound care. Whether for a surgical site on the body or to restore the skin’s natural condition – including dry, cracked skin from overuse of alcohol in traditional hand sanitizer – there is an effective solution available.

  • Safer for Skin

    Advanced QAC hand sanitizers are non-toxic, non-flammable, and non-damaging.

  • Storage

    Special storage facilities to meet fire codes are not required when storing bulk quantities of alcohol-free hand sanitizers; the opposite is true of hand sanitizer containing alcohol.

  • Public Safety

    Alcohol-free hand sanitizer is less likely to be intentionally ingested. Yet, keeping sanitizers out of reach of children is vital.

GH hand sanitizers variety pack

Good hand hygiene means washing hands with soap and tepid running water for a minimum of 20-seconds. When unavailable, hand sanitizer remains the recommended alternative.

The bottom line is that the benefits of alcohol-free hand sanitizer far outweigh the alternatives.

QAC-based hand sanitizer is safer for people of all ages, and its long-lasting germ-fighting nature accommodates active lifestyles better.

Alcohol-free hand sanitizer ensures public safety, especially for venues that freely provide hand sanitizer to patrons.

How to know if hand sanitizer is safe can be challenging.

For a comprehensive look at benzalkonium chloride for sanitizing skin and making informed decisions on safer hand sanitizer, visit www.glanhealth.com.