By Rebecca Oosting

More and more of us are relying on hand sanitizer when we’re out in public as we look for ways to protect ourselves from COVID-19. But before you use that product on your hands, take a moment to review the lengthy list of recalled products just to make sure you aren’t applying an ineffective or toxic product. 

As cases of COVID-19 cases continue to rise, so does the list of hand sanitizers being recalled by North American regulators. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to expand its list of recalled hand sanitizers, which now has more than 200 products. Health Canada’s list of recalled hand sanitizers is just as lengthy, with four more being added as recently as this month.

Most hand sanitizers on these lists are being recalled due to one or more of the following reasons:

  • Product has been tested and found to contain methanol or 1-propanol.
  • Product labeled to contain methanol.
  • Product has been tested and is found to have microbial contamination.
  • Product is being recalled by the manufacturer or distributor.
  • Product is subpotent, meaning it has less than the required amount of ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol or benzalkonium chloride.
  • Product is purportedly made at the same facility as products that have been tested by FDA and found to contain methanol or 1-propanol.
  • Product is packaged in a container that resembles a food/beverage container that presents increased risk of accidental ingestion.

Methanol (or wood alcohol) and 1-propanol are both lethal when ingested, but these toxic ingredients can also enter the bloodstream through the skin. Exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death. 

Subpotent recalled hand sanitizers may contain safe ingredients like ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol in small amounts, rendering the products ineffective. Hand sanitizers may also be recalled due to labeling issues, such as when technical-grade ethanol is used without proper warnings in Canada such as “Not recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.”

When looking for a hand sanitizer, always look for one with ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol as the active ingredient. For a hand sanitizer to be effective at killing germs on the skin, it will need to have at least 70 percent alcohol content. 

Information on how to check if your hand sanitizer is effective and safe

In Canada
When identifying hand sanitizers on Health Canada’s authorized hand sanitizer list:

  1. Locate the Natural Product Number (NPN) or Drug Identification Number (DIN) on the product label
  2. Look for that number on the hand sanitizers list

In the United States
When identifying hand sanitizers from the FDA’s do-not-use list, consumers should look for one or more identifiers from the list that match the product’s labeling, including:

  • Manufacturer name
  • Product name
  • National Drug Code (NDC) number

If any of the identifiers (name, company, or NDC) match a product on the list, the FDA urges consumers to immediately stop using the hand sanitizer. Dispose of the hand sanitizer bottle in a hazardous waste container, if available, or dispose of as recommended by local waste management and recycling centers. Do not flush or pour these products down the drain or mix with other liquids.

Hand sanitizer with a minimum of 70 percent alcohol content is able to kill germs. However, hand sanitizer should never be a substitute for proper and frequent hand washing. Hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds frequently throughout the day is a key component in stopping the spread of any infection, including COVID-19. Hand sanitizer is a convenient solution for keeping clean on the go, or where running water and soap is not available. 

For additional reading:

What Is the Real Difference Between Hand Sanitizing and Hand Washing?

FDA Urges Consumers to Not Use Certain Hand Sanitizers

Avoid These Hand Sanitizers, FDA Warns

Hand Sanitizer Recall List Exceeds 200