The scoop on hand sanitizers


Advertise with us

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/12/2020 (904 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hand sanitizers are almost everywhere: in workplaces, schools, restaurants, grocery stores and most public areas. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, using sanitizers is a health department directive. Nowadays we automatically reach for that spray, rub, or gel.

Data released by Statistics Canada show that retail sales of hand sanitizer continue to soar. In early June it was 12 times higher than in 2019. The unexpected demand has created a shortage of pharmaceutical and food-grade ethanol, the primary disinfectant in most hand sanitizers.

On April 15, Health Canada issued a notice about the temporary approval of specific sources of tech-grade ethanol for use in the manufacture of hand sanitizers and hard-surface disinfectants. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, regulation of the quality of hand sanitizers has been somewhat relaxed by Health Canada. Correspondent Freda Glow has the details.

Did you know that your disinfectant may make you sick? Because of the shortage of ethanol, alternative compounds such as acetaldehyde are being used. Have you looked at the ingredients label on your recently purchased bottle of hand sanitizer? Many have been imported from far-off places like Korea.

The label of my sanitizer promises to kill 99.9 per cent of all germs. Alcohol and glycerin are listed as its main ingredients. However, those manufactured with acetaldehyde are classed as a Type 2 hazard — this means that the probability of adverse problems is remote. However, they can cause temporary consequences for a few.

A government task force that tests these products before public distribution has deemed tech-grade ethanol can be used in situations in which there is no alternative (such as high-quality, alcohol-based ethanol or soap and water). 

Scientists feel the health benefits outweigh the risk. They noted that it depends on the number of applications (as high as 109 per day for nurses in ICU wards), skin absorption rate (two per cent), and there’s a higher evaporation rate with acetaldehyde compared to ethanol.

Finally, it’s true that acetaldehyde is absorbed more readily into the skin. However, the task force concluded that cancer is a minimal risk, especially when the amount of chemical is decreased. Although it is tolerable, they stated that there’s a higher risk in hospitals and nursing homes because of the frequency of use by nurses and caregivers. In June, 2020 investigators recommended that women who are breastfeeding should not use hand sanitizers made of acetaldehyde. Also, labels must clearly spell out that since April, purity of the product has decreased.

The latest assessment by Health Canada indicated that in the absence of a supply of tech-grade ethanol, the use of hand sanitizers and cleaning products made with impurities is acceptable. 

However, they insisted on new labelling for such products, which must  state: “For adults only, do not inhale, do not use on broken or damaged skin and do not use if you are breastfeeding.”

This policy will continue until the supply of quality ethanol will once again become plentiful enough so manufacturers can meet public demand.

Freda Glow is a community correspondent for the North End.

Freda Glow

Freda Glow
North End community correspondent

Freda Glow is a community correspondent for the North End.

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us

The Times