Wood alcohol, or methanol, can be absorbed through the skin — and it can be toxic enough to cause blindness. If it is ingested, it can be lethal.
A rush of new brands of hand sanitizer has hit the market since March and, unfortunately, some of them contain wood alcohol. Since June, the FDA has found at least 87 such products and it urges consumers to avoid them.
To be safe, hand sanitizers should contain only ethanol, which is also called ethyl alcohol. But although many of these products are advertising as containing ethanol/ethyl alcohol, tests showed that they actually contained methanol. Therefore, consumers have no way of knowing which sanitizers are safe to use, except by sticking to known brands and keeping track of dangerous ones the FDA has identified on its website.
Never drink or eat hand sanitizer and keep it away from kids
As we mentioned, methanol can be absorbed through the skin, so you can become seriously ill even by using the product as directed. However, the FDA has received reports of both adults and children ingesting hand sanitizers and becoming seriously ill as a result. Adverse events reported include blindness, hospitalizations and death.
Even if you are sure your hand sanitizer contains only ethanol/ethyl alcohol, you should never ingest it. Doing so could make you seriously ill, and it won’t get you drunk.
Keep all hand sanitizers away from children to avoid the possibility they will ingest the substance. Although anyone who ingests methanol could be at risk for serious illness or death, children are at the highest risk. Ingesting only a small amount could be lethal for a child.
Symptoms of methanol poisoning
If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of methanol poisoning, you should immediately seek treatment to reverse the toxic effects. After substantial exposure, affected people may experience:
- Blurred vision
- Blindness, which may be permanent
- Permanent damage to the nervous system
Hand sanitizers are never ‘FDA-approved’
The FDA especially recommends avoiding hand sanitizers that are sold with false or misleading information. For example:
- Claims that they can prevent the spread of viruses
- Claims that they can provide prolonged protection (e.g. for 24 hours)
- Claims that they are FDA approved (the FDA does not approve hand sanitizers)
Also, you should avoid hand sanitizers that are packaged like food or drink, as these can confuse children into ingesting them. The packaging may make the product sound like a candy, drink or liquor or be marketed as a drink or cocktail.
Use soap and water instead
Hand sanitizer is not necessary to prevent the spread of viruses. Washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water is just as effective. Since some products containing methanol are not properly labeled, consider avoiding hand sanitizer altogether to keep yourself and your children safe.
If you believe you may have been sickened or injured by methanol-based hand sanitizer, discuss your situation with an attorney who handles product liability law.