FDA Warns Of Health Risks From Hand Sanitizer Vapors

Federal health officials warn that vapors from alcohol-based hand sanitizers have been linked to an increasing number of illnesses among consumers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a hand sanitizer warning on June 16, advising consumers to always use alcohol-based hand sanitizers in well-ventilated areas to avoid exposure to potentially harmful vapors, which may cause a variety of side effects.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, the FDA has received a rapidly growing number of reports involving consumers experiencing headaches, nausea, and dizziness after applying alcohol-based hand sanitizers to the skin, which are likely attributed to the presence of vapors given off by the alcohol-based products.

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The FDA advises consumers to use alcohol-based hand sanitizers in a well-ventilated area, and if consumers are in an enclosed area, such as a vehicle, they should open a window to improve ventilation until the product has dried on their hands or the vapors have cleared.

Methanol Recalls

The agency also urges consumers to make sure their hand sanitizer products have not been recalled or do not contain potentially harmful active ingredients, such as methanol.

Over the last 15 months, the demand for hand sanitizers increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic, causing an influx of methanol-containing hand sanitizers to enter the U.S. market, even though methanol is not approved for use in topical sanitary products due to its potentially harmful side effects.

Methanol is often used to make fuel and antifreeze, but including it can cause side effects like headache, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, seizures, blindness, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system and death.

Although methanol poisoning typically only lasts eight to 24 hours, injuries can include an accumulation of acid in the blood, called metabolic acidosis, which can set in fast and cause a serious risk of permanent blindness or death.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is aware of at least 62 alcohol-based hand sanitizer-associated methanol poisoning cases from May 1, 2020, through June 30, 2020. Four patients died and three were left with visual impairments.

The FDA has closely monitored the quality of many imported and domestically manufactured hand sanitizers being distributed throughout the U.S., resulting in at least 100 hand sanitizer recalls issued over the last several months for either containing methanol or having lower than disclosed levels of ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, which give consumers a false sense of security that the products have killed germs.

In August 2020, the FDA released a hand sanitizer testing guidance outlining a series or procedures for manufacturers to test for methanol before releasing the product in commerce.

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