By ORM Staff

The FDA has seen a sharp increase in hand sanitizer products that are labeled as containing ethanol but that have tested positive for methanol contamination. Methanol, or wood alcohol, is a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested and can be life-threatening when ingested. 

Methanol is not an acceptable active ingredient for hand sanitizers and must not be used due to its toxic effects, the agency said. Click here for a list of products. 

The agency said adults and children have ingested hand sanitizer products contaminated with methanol that has led to recent adverse events including blindness, hospitalizations and death. Although all people using these products on their hands are at risk for methanol poisoning, young children who accidentally ingest these products, and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol substitute, are most at risk.

Consumers who have been exposed to hand sanitizer containing methanol and are experiencing nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system, or death symptoms should seek immediate treatment for potential reversal of toxic effects of methanol poisoning. 

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The FDA reminded consumers to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing one’s nose. If soap and water are not readily available, the  CDC recommends consumers use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol (also referred to as ethyl alcohol).

The agency said to watch for misleading claims that the hand sanitizer can prevent the spread of viruses such as COVID-19, including

  • claims of prolonged protection;
  • products that do not have enough ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol to kill organisms; and
  • products that are fraudulently marketed as “FDA-approved.” No hand sanitizers are approved by the FDA.

—From FDA materials