FDA warns of nearly 90 hand sanitizers that could be toxic

National Coronavirus Coverage

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Hand sanitizer has become essential in our fight against COVID-19 but that bottle you take everywhere could be dangerous to your health, even life-threatening. The Food and Drug Administration is now warning people to stop using nearly 90 varieties of hand sanitizers. 

The products contain the wrong kind of alcohol. “It can be fatal,” Dr. Ruddy Rose, the director of the Virginia Poison Center at VCU Health, told 8News. He says the FDA has seen a sharp increase in hand sanitizers labeled to contain ethanol or ethyl alcohol, but instead contain methanol.

“Methanol, which is another alcohol, can be very toxic,” Dr. Rose explained.

“Methanol is used in things like anti-freeze,” says Heather Florio, CEO of Desert Harvest, which manufacturers natural Aloe Vera products including hand sanitizer. She says it’s scary especially since you won’t find the potentially deadly ingredient on the label.

“It is really hard to tell just by looking at a bottle,” Florio told 8News.

When the pandemic hit, hand sanitizer quickly flew off the shelves, prompting the birth of new brands, many out of Mexico. “Brands that were never even making hand sanitizer before or in that market, are making it just to capture a dollar,” said Florio.

The FDA has now added 87 varieties of hand sanitizer to its “do not use list” including the Assured and Blumen brands. The agency warns methanol exposure can lead to nausea, headaches, seizures, coma and blindness. 

“If someone is using this and complains of blurred vision, that would mean a trip to the emergency department,” Dr. Rose said.

If ingested, it can fatal. The FDA told 8News methanol-laced products have already been linked to at least eight deaths across the country. 8News has also uncovered a connection to at least 26 hospitalizations nationwide. There have been incidents in Virginia.

“We have,” Dr. Rose told 8News. “We actually had a whole group of 10 or 15 people that were using a product. Fortunately, the cases we had here did not have a bad outcome.”

At least not yet, 8News found several recalled hand sanitizers still for sale online including the Assured brand on Amazon. We also hit area retailers and checked store shelves, finding a Richmond Family Dollar still selling a recalled Modesa brand.

8News alerted the store manager. They were not aware it had been recalled. It has been hard to keep up with the FDA’s growing list. Once we pointed it to the manager, she immediately pulled it from the shelves and thanked us for letting her know.

So what can consumers do? Both Dr. Rose and Florio say stick to reputable brands you know and trust. If you have any questions about exposure you can call the Virginia Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 anywhere in Central and Eastern Virginia.

Desert Harvest hand sanitizer should be for sale online soon. If you’re wondering if that hand sanitizer you have is safe, the FDA’s list has a search function so you can check it out here.

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