The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first warned consumers in mid-June to avoid hand sanitizers that contained methanol, a wood alcohol that can be toxic if absorbed through the skin, or deadly if ingested. Since then, the list of hand sanitizers containing methanol has grown almost daily and includes many labeled as containing much safer ethanol (also listed as ethyl alcohol) or isopropyl alcohol, but tests have found they contain methanol instead.
Exposure to methanol can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system, and death. People who use these products on their hands are at risk of toxicity. But children who accidentally ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink them as an alcohol substitute are at greater risk of methanol poisoning. It can be lethal at even low doses.
This is especially troubling during a global pandemic when keeping hands sanitized is vitally important to stop viral spread of COVID-19. How can consumers be sure the hand sanitizer they are using doesn’t contain toxic methanol? Unfortunately, there is no surefire way.
The FDA encourages consumers to buy reputable brands. But even brands that we have trusted for years have been hard to find in recent months and many of us have had to resort to unfamiliar brand names. “Be aware that sometimes ‘cheap’ might not always be so good,” Dr. William Banner, Medical Director of the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information and a past president of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, told Live Science. Some products made by small companies “who just jumped into a market” might not be as trustworthy as established brands.
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