Ethanol-Based Sanitizers;
Not As Sanitary as They Seem!

In this pandemic era, many businesses have been dramatically hurt. The manufacture, sale and supply of hand sanitizers, however, isn’t one such business. In fact, it is a niche market that has thrived in light of the recent pandemic. In these times of immense demand, however, the sale and manufacture of hand sanitizers demands a closer look - specifically, at those made with ethanol. Recently, the Trump administration “tightened restrictions on the use of ethanol in hand sanitizers,”[1] and did so with reason. This isn’t the first instance of a governmental body restricting the sale of sanitizers on the same grounds - In June 2020, the FDA issued a public notice warning consumers against the use of hand sanitizers laden with ethanol.[2]

Naturally, this raises a number of questions as to the negative impacts of key ingredients in sanitizers - ethanol and methanol. Methanol, much like ethanol, has also shown to have drastic side effects when used to make sanitizers - Considered a ‘toxic’ chemical, methanol is known to “result in dermatitis to the affected region. The main problem with methanol is that it is absorbed through the skin,” resulting in toxic levels of this chemical permeating the skin and entering the body.[3] This, in turn, can result in a number of side effects - “nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, blurred vision, permanent blindness, coma, damage to the nervous system, and even death.”[4] Additionally, the FDA also stated that “significant levels”[5] of carcinogens were found in ethanol-based sanitizers, making them both harmful and unsafe.

Apart from the ill-effects of these chemicals themselves, the rapid growth in demand for sanitizers has led to production output taking precedence over quality in production. This is, perhaps, best observed in the case of Eskbiochem SA de CV, a sanitizer manufacturer based out of Mexico. During the manufacturing process, they were found to include unhealthy amounts of methanol in their product (up to 81% percent, in fact!), leading to a number of unforeseen side effects when used.[6] Apart from raising questions about the chemical itself, this also raises eyebrows about manufacturing facilities based out of the United States, where regulations and the law are much more lax. In such facilities, the maximization of efficiency and production output is the number one goal, with little regard being shown towards the side effects caused by the product.

This issue is compounded by the fact that demand for sanitizers is at an all-time high, which is why finding a practical, affordable and clean replacement for these products is paramount. If demand is high, the supply of questionable products is likely to continue, particularly as a price war between suppliers starts to become an underlying factor. Fortunately, however, the answer may be more accessible than it appears - Isopropyl alcohol offers a much safer alternative to ethanol or methanol. With the U.S government shutting down a number of ethanol and methanol based manufacturers, we must ask ourselves, is now the time to make the switch to Isopropyl alcohol as the main sanitizer ingredient?

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-ethanol-sanitizer-idUSKBN22C0LG

[2] https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-advises-consumers-not-use-hand-sanitizer-products-manufactured-eskbiochem#:~:text=Methanol%20is%20not%20an%20acceptable

[3] https://www.healthline.com/health-news/fda-says-avoid-9-hand-sanitizers-that-contain-toxic-methanol

[4] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/check-for-toxic-methanol-in-your-hand-sanitizer-3-people-died-and-1-permanently-blinded-due-to-methanol-poisoning-from-hand-sanitizer/photostory/76689767.cms

[5] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-ethanol-sanitizer-idUSKBN22C0LG

[6] https://www.healthline.com/health-news/fda-says-avoid-9-hand-sanitizers-that-contain-toxic-methanol


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