We help you find out why you should avoid methanol in hand sanitisers you buy and how to identify safe hand sanitisers.

Since the beginning of the pandemic outbreak, we are encouraged to take personal hygiene seriously to lower the risk of contracting COVID-19 . World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that there are a few ways that COVID-19  can be transmitted between; through direct, indirect (touching of contaminated objects and surfaces) or close contact with infected people via mouth and nose secretions.

These include saliva, respiratory secretions or secretion droplets. These are released from the mouth or nose when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks or even sings. People who are in close contact (within 1 metre) with an infected person can catch COVID-19  when those infectious droplets get into their mouth, nose or eyes.

If you recall, in March 2020, the Malaysian government had implemented the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of COVID-19 . The public were anxious and started panic buying on necessities. Groceries, personal care, health supplies, and toilet papers (yes, we still do not understand why) were grabbed from the racks.

Hand sanitisers and face masks were also the hot commodities snapped up. These two are like your armour and shield whenever you step out of the house. This lead to huge spike in demand for both hand sanitisers and face mask.

Relaxed regulations to meet demand for santisers

Many companies tried to fulfil the demand by coming out with alcohol-based sanitizers. In general, alcohol used in most hand sanitizers are ethyl alcohol (ethanol), isopropyl alcohol, n-propyl alcohol or their combination according to WHO. Some countries might relax the regulation in order to meet the demand of hand sanitizers, resulting in some manufacturers flaunting the product safety of hand sanitisers by including methanol (methyl alcohol), as it is from the same family of alcohol composition.

There have been news reports of methanol poisoning from hand sanitisers usage. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even published a list of hand sanitisers brands that contain toxic methanol.

What is Methanol?

Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is a non-drinking type of alcohol. It is mostly used to create fuel, as solvent and anti-freeze agent. Sometimes, methanol is added together with ethanol to denature the latter to prevent people from drinking ethanol products. This is commonly used in mouth wash and fuel blend. However, the methanol used is only in a small amount and is safe for application.

While ethanol is consumable, methanol on the other hand is a poisonous chemical, although it is present in a minute concentration in living organisms due to the metabolic process and in also in some fruits and vegetables.

Why is Methanol Poisonous for Us?

Methanol, when ingested, can be lethal. For children, it takes only 30 ml and 60ml – 240 ml for adults.

The safe amount level of methanol in the human body is set to be 500 mg per day (in diet) according to the FDA. Anything more than the safe amount level will potentially cause methanol poisoning. Methanol can enter the body system through inhalation, digestion, and absorption. When this toxic substance gets into the body, it can cause nausea, headache, vomit, seizures,  nerve damage, and even blindness.

Once methanol is presence in the blood, it will travel to the liver and the alcohol (ethanol and methanol) will start to dehydrogenase. Methanol will be converted into formaldehyde and further broke down into formic acid. The accumulation of formic acid will lower the pH level of the blood and disrupt the metabolic process required to produce energy. This also will lead to a higher buildup of lactate.

When this happens, our nerve cells will be affected, especially causing the retina and optic nerves to swell, thus this is where people will experience blurry and snowy vision. A long exposure can eventually lead to permanent disability; blindness.

How Methanol Ends Up in Hand Sanitiser?

If methanol is a prohibited ingredient to be used, how do it can be found in the sanitisers, you ask?  According to Live Science, this is most likely due to the sloppy manufacturing processes where methanol that naturally arises during alcohol distillation is not properly removed. Another reason may be caused by the violation of guidelines from manufacturers by starting with an already distilled high-methanol solvent as the base.

Most chemist can differentiate between ethanol and methanol. However, for us consumers, we would not be able to tell the difference, especially if a masking ingredient is used together in the formulation and shown in the ingredients label.

How to Identify Safe Hand Sanitisers

Yes, we admit, not all ingredient labels are transparent and honest enough for us to gauge the product safety. We recommends reading the ingredients label to know how safe are the hand sanitisers that you are getting. Always stick to hand sanitisers that contain the active ingredients of ethyl alcohol (ethanol), isopropyl alcohol, n-propyl alcohol or a combination of them. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended using sanitisers with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropyl to make sure the hand sanitisers thoroughly work to kill the bacterias and viruses.

If the ingredient labels are not specific enough by just listing ‘alcohol’ in general, do try to avoid them as we do not know if the ‘alcohol’ used are the safe to be used. Some brands build on a long-term trust with consumers knowing that the people can trust the product safety under the brands. More tips on how to spot safe hand sanitisers.

Personal Hygiene is Important

Using hand sanitisers might be the easiest alternatives but there is a downside of it as well. Too much of alcohol hand sanitizers may lower your resistance against bacteria as it not only kills the bad bacteria and germs but the good ones too! Your hands tend to get dry, flaky, prone to cuts, bleeding, sensitised or even suffer from skin reaction.

The next best alternative is to practise hand-washing instead. If you are worried about the commercial hand detergent used, opt for natural soap, which is a definitely gentler and skin-friendly. Take all necessary precaution by using a face mask in a crowded area, practice proper social distancing, and remember to wash your hands regularly.

Stay safe everyone!

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6069146/

https://www.livescience.com/methanol-tainted-hand-sanitizer-safety.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2020/06/22/fda-dont-use-these-9-hand-sanitizers-due-to-toxic-ingredient/#53535d105518

https://www.chemicalsafetyfacts.org/methanol/#:~:text=Methanol%20is%20a%20nondrinking%20type,ethanol%2C%20poisonous%20for%20human%20consumption.

https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/qa-consumers-hand-sanitizers-and-COVID-19

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-how-is-covid-19-transmitted?gclid=Cj0KCQjwsuP5BRCoARIsAPtX_wHua3t0DMvwdqy_09k8RSoi-onwpE4pR5ebQInNmoImqAcdI9G3PPEaAk_-EALw_wcB