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FDA Warns Consumers to Avoid Low-Concentrate Hand Sanitizers

Sanitizers with less than 60% alcohol are ineffective

spinner image bottle of hand sanitizer showing a womans hands using it by depressing the pump top
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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is cautioning consumers to avoid hand sanitizers that do not contain at least 60 percent alcohol, saying these “subpotent” products are not effective in stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus associated with COVID-19 disease. The active ingredient in alcohol-based hand sanitizers is either ethanol (also called ethyl alcohol) or isopropyl alcohol.

The warning comes as the FDA recommends that three Mexican and one Texas manufacturer recall hand sanitizers after testing revealed some of their products do not contain the recommended level of ethanol or other disinfecting chemicals:

  • Santa Cruz Biotechnology (Texas), manufacturer of UltraCruz Hand Sanitizing Gel Antimicrobial 

  • Healthy Foods & Nutrition Lab de Mexico, manufacturer of Medicare Alcohol Antiseptic Topical Solution

  • Quimica Magna de Mexico, maker of Datsen Hand Sanitizer, Alcohol Antiseptic 62% Hand Sanitizer, Bernal Hand Sanitizer, Alcohol Antiseptic 65% Hand Sanitizer and Alcohol Antiseptic 70% Hand Sanitizer

  • DEPQ Internacional, manufacturer of dgreen Advanced Sanitizer Alcohol Free, dgreen Advanced Hand Sanitizer Antibacterial Gel, Hand Sanitizer, Hand Sanitizer Gel, and Clean Humans Hand Sanitizer. (These products may not contain high enough levels of non-alcohol benzalkonium chloride to be effective. The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] also recommend consumers avoid hand sanitizers that use active ingredients other than alcohol, including benzalkonium chloride.)
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The FDA also found Sayab Antiseptic Hand Sanitizer 100, manufactured by JG Atlas Comercios, to be “subpotent” but found no evidence the Mexican-made product is available in the U.S.

The “subpotent” products have been added to a list of more than 100 hand sanitizers that the FDA warns U.S. consumers to avoid, in this case because they may contain methanol, a potentially deadly substitute for ethanol. The FDA also issued an “import alert” for many of the Mexican-made products in an effort to prevent the potentially tainted hand sanitizers from entering the United States.

Regularly washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds — especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose — is recommended to stop the spread of COVID-19 disease, according to the CDC. When soap and water are not available, the CDC recommends using hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol to kill most disease-causing germs. Anything less than that may not work as well “for many types of germs” and could “merely reduce the growth of germs rather than kill them outright,” the CDC says.

Hand sanitizer works best when used correctly. Apply the recommended amount to the palm of your hand (enough to cover the entire surface of both hands) and distribute the sanitizer, paying special attention to the fingertips. It should take about 20 seconds. Do not wipe or rinse off the hand sanitizer before it dries, the CDC recommends.

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