The Chemistry of Contaminated Hand Sanitizers

Chances are, you have a bottle of hand sanitizer sitting in at least one area of your house, your car, and maybe even your office. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been buying and stocking up on hand sanitizer, causing a spike in the industry. Despite being sold in everyday stores for millions of consumers to purchase, numerous hand sanitizer brands make false and misleading claims. Countless hand sanitizers on the market cannot pass standards set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some even contain poisonous ingredients such as methanol ranging from 1 to 80 percent.

Since June, the FDA has unmasked 160 alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing toxic chemicals. The irony lies in the fact that hand sanitizers have one goal: to keep people safe. The fake, chemical-laden hand sanitizers disguised as safe can actually be deadly; several people have died after ingesting them. Other consequences of using these noxious sanitizers include hospitalizations for blindness, cardiac arrest, nervous system effects, and more.

A direct result of the COVID-19 global pandemic, shelves across the world became bare as people began to stock up on invaluable items. Shortages were – and still are – prevalent in countless countries. Hand sanitizers were no exception; simultaneously, the ingredients (ethanol, isopropanol, and glycerin) used in most (safe) hand sanitizers also became scarce. In an effort to provide sanitizers to the public, non-traditional manufacturers such as perfumeries, small businesses, and breweries began to produce the liquid gold people were desperate to find. However, without prior experience or proper knowledge, they unknowingly began to create and sell toxic hand sanitizers.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA had a small hand in the industry; now, they analyze it with a magnifying glass. The agency said in a statement, “Almost all of the hand sanitizer manufacturers [with contaminated products] are newly registered facilities.” Hand sanitizer is not controlled or standardized in many countries. Without regulations, new products can effortlessly enter the market despite manufacturers’ lack of knowledge regarding the product. The absence of regulations combined with the overwhelming need for hand sanitizers created a perfect-storm scenario.

Curious to see whether your hand sanitizer is safe or potentially deadly? Check out the FDA’s hand sanitizer guide to determine whether your product is on the list. As always, the best way to prevent the spread of disease – including COVID-19 – is to wash your hands with soap and water.

Chemical composition should never be a guessing game. At Apex Measurement Systems, we measure a broad range of chemical compounds such as raw materials, industrial minerals, and feedstocks using elemental and compositional analysis. Click here for more information about faux sanitizers. 

Apex Measurement Systems brings clients to measurement success by optimizing their control processes. We are a global company with an expert team of scientists and engineers. Our area of expertise is vast; we handle materials, applications, data analysis, and calibrations. If you can’t measure it, you can’t make it.

Written by the digital marketing staff at Creative Programs & Systems:

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