People overusing hand sanitizer, says physician

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Hand Sanitizer. Photo credit: Jonathan Lantz/Mid-Michigan NOW.

FLINT, Mich. - During the pandemic, stores have had a hard time keeping hand sanitizer on the shelves as people try to protect themselves from the virus and other germs; but a physician warns that improper use could lead to adverse health effects.

“We’ve got grandchildren. So, we’ve always used it. Had it in the house, but now it’s in the car,” said Linda Kett of Swartz Creek.

“I have it in my purse at all times, but I did before this all started,” said Lindsay Gasparovic of Swartz Creek.

The antiseptic products appeared to be growing in popularity during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I’ve seen people using it excessively lately,” said Gasparovic.

Dr. Anas Siddiqui of McLaren Flint said that could present a problem.

“Right now, when a lot of people are using hand sanitizers way more than they’re supposed to, the risk is higher,” he said.

Too much exposure to the active ingredients, typically alcohol, can irritate the skin, he warned.

Siddiqui said the medical community had not been immune to side effects from increased use of hand sanitizer amid the coronavirus.

“A lot of my colleagues, they started developing itching, rashes on their skin. Just because of irritation, because alcohol is a very toxic compound.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates hand sanitizers as over-the-counter topical drugs, which require warning labels.

Hand sanitizers recently sold in the U.S. included methanol, a potentially harmful ingredient, according to the FDA.

The agency states that the only active ingredients approved for products marketed as instant hand sanitizers are ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, or benzalkonium chloride.

“All the compounds in the family of alcohol can be absorbed through the skin,” said Siddiqui. “It just depends on how much you’re getting exposed to.”

He said toxicity can lead to nausea or headaches.

The FDA is currently reviewing the active ingredients in hand sanitizers, but reported that there is currently no evidence that the products are any more effective than washing hands with water and regular soap for at least 20 seconds (as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

“We have the best and the cheapest way to sanitize ourselves, and that is soap and water,” said Siddiqui.

The FDA noted an increase of reports of accidental ingestion of hand sanitizer during the pandemic. It advises adults to keep the product out of reach of children, and to seek immediate attention in the case of ingestion.