I-TEAM: What do these 75 hand sanitizers recently probed by the FDA have in common?

Published: Jul. 23, 2020 at 7:15 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - With so many of us thinking ahead to the fall and what it means for back to school and back to any semblance of a normal life, an expanded warning from the FDA is grabbing our attention.

Hand sanitizers are increasingly back in stock across the country. That’s the good news. The bad news? There are now 75 brands to avoid for containing a dangerously harmful chemical, including one that could be deadly.

Washing our hands with soap and water for 20 seconds is one of the most powerful things we can do to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, but when there is no sink nearby, many of us reach for hand sanitizer.

The I-Team has learned some sanitizers can put your health at risk.

We found the Food and Drug Administration is warning Americans they’ve seen a “sharp increase” in hand sanitizer products containing methanol.

The FDA says “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.”

What's more, the FDA says they've seen cases of adults and children "ingesting hand sanitizer products contaminated with methanol that has led to recent adverse events including blindness, hospitalizations and death."

"Those that were formulated in Mexico actually contained methanol, and methanol is a grain alcohol that is usually used in solvents and fuel and antifreeze, but it can be absorbed through the skin," Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified dermatologic surgeon, said.

Dr. Engelman, based out of New York City, has been in the epicenter of the coronavirus.

“This is absolutely something that should not be put onto our skin because people don’t realize that 60 percent of what we put on our skin can be absorbed into our bloodstream,” Dr. Engelman said.

We found there are now 75 brands consumers need to avoid after the FDA spot tested them and found the methanol. We combed through the ever-growing list of banned brands. So far, it appears they have all come from Mexico. While keeping up with 75 different brands wouldn’t be easy, checking to see where the hand sanitizer you’re using is manufactured is pretty simple.

Dr. Engleman also encourages you to look at the list of ingredients on each bottle you buy.

“I couldn’t encourage people enough to actually check the labels. Just like they do when their checking food, they read the labels,” Dr. Engelman said. “What you want to look for is ethanol -- at least 60 percent -- or isopropyl alcohol.”

Dr. Engelman says hand sanitizers made from US distilleries are considered safe because they have access to ethanol, the alcohol you want at 60 percent or greater in your hand sanitizer.

We found the FDA’s investigation into hand sanitizers containing methanol is ongoing, adding “methanol is not an acceptable active ingredient for hand sanitizers and must not be used due to its toxic effects.”

It’s just one more thing to triple check for in a time where we are all already feeling overwhelmed. “That’s what I hate,” Dr. Engleman said. “In a place when we are trying to do right, that these contaminated products are out there potentially doing harm, and people really aren’t even aware.”

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