A peak health body in the United States has restricted the sale of hand sanitisers containing methanol, citing it as a potential poisoning hazard. Australia’s own health regulator has said there’s no need to worry just yet, but there are a few things you should consider before grabbing any old bottle.
We’re well into the COVID-19 pandemic and little tasks such as washing hands, covering mouths and using hand sanitiser have become second nature to us. The US’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruffled those feathers a little bit after it released a warning urging people to not use hand sanitisers containing methanol.
“The FDA first warned about some of the methanol-containing hand sanitisers being sold in retail stores and online in June,” a new release read.
“However, methanol is not an acceptable ingredient in any drug, including hand sanitiser, even if methanol is listed as an ingredient on the product label. The FDA’s ongoing testing has found methanol contamination in hand sanitizer products ranging from 1% to 80%.”
The FDA has said these methanol-containing hand sanitisers had led to an increase in reports of blindness, cardiac effects, effects on the central nervous system, and hospitalisations and death related to their usage.
It’s some pretty worrying stuff.
Over in Australia, however, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Australia’s FDA equivalent, has no knowledge of this occurring in the country, and has not released any safety advisories as a result.
“The TGA is aware of the FDA news releases/safety advisories in relation to hand sanitisers containing methanol,” a TGA spokesperson said to Lifehacker Australia in an email.
“The TGA has not, to date, detected any safety signals related to methanol and poisoning through the skin … The TGA is not aware of any reports of methanol adulterated hand sanitisers supplied in Australia and to date has not released any safety advisories similar to the FDA’s.”
It pointed to the Poisons Standard, a 700-page register classifying various medicines and poisons. Anything containing between two per cent and 10 per cent of methanol has to be clearly labelled with a caution, while products with more than 10 per cent methanol require a poison label.
Still, there are some more practical steps to ensure you’re not buying anything harmful.
What should I check for in hand sanitisers?
The TGA provides a few points for Australians to follow when topping up their hand sanitiser supplies.
First up, it’s always handy to read the label. As we reported back in March, not all hand sanitisers are made equally, with some having lower alcohol contents than others.
“Look for a formulation of at least 60 per cent alcohol in these products,” the TGA site reads, adding that sanitisers claiming to use the WHO’s formula will need to be 80 per cent ethanol or 75 per cent isopropyl alcohol.
Also worthy noting is that there are two types of sanitisers available in Australia — therapeutic and cosmetic. The former requires TGA approval and are usually products that have a ‘hospital grade’ sticker slapped on it. The latter are the usual sanitisers you’ll see being sold in chemists and stores. They aren’t less effective, per se, but they haven’t been approved by the TGA and therefore can’t claim to kill viruses and usually contain lower risk chemicals.
Another thing to take into consideration is the ingredients list. As mentioned, you’ll need to make sure the sanitiser has a certain percentage of alcohol in order for it to be effective, but if it contains a percentage of methanol, you should probably reconsider it. The TGA suggests being extra vigilant when buying sanitisers online as ingredient lists and claims might differ from the actual packaging.
At the end of the day, it’s pretty tough to really know what concoction is in your hand sanitiser. Finding trustworthy brands and stopping usage if any skin irritation occurs are some simple steps to take, but if you think a sanitiser product is being a bit dodgy, you can take your complaint to the TGA for further investigation.
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