Hand sanitisers are now commonly used in Australian homes and schools to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but recent incidents have revealed alarming flaws in some products.
A Choice investigation uncovered a sanitiser from a popular retail store was labelled as 70% alcohol but when tested by the National Measurement Institute, it contained 23% alcohol – far below what would be effective against COVID-19.
Last month a distillery in Victoria was forced to issue an urgent product recall after selling bottles of hand santiser as gin.
The NSW Health Department issued a warning about the dangers of alcohol based hand sanitiser if ingested after a spike in the number of calls due to exposure incidents. The cases were mainly babies and young children who had swallowed sanitiser at home.
Dermatologist, Philip Singh said there has also been a spike in people suffering hand skin conditions related to sanitiser use.
“There has been about a 25 per cent increase in people requiring treatment for skin conditions on their hands,” said Dr Singh.
“It’s been a decent uptick.”
Perth man, Joel Horseley says he experienced sore and blistered hands after using alcohol-based hand sanitiser when he visited several shops in one day, using sanitiser at each business.
“That night my hands felt like they were on fire and I couldn’t sleep,” he said.
Dermatologist, Kurt Gebauer said he had seen an influx of people “wrecking their hands” from too much washing and hand sanitizing.
Sanitiser expert, Peter Malone said hand sanitisers played an important part in reducing the spread of COVID-19, particularly if they keep hands sterile for a period of time.
Mr Malone is the executive chairman at Skin Elements, an Australian public company dedicated to designing and formulating natural, organic, health and wellness products for the global market.
“The ability of alcohol-based products to kill bacteria ends once the product has dried on the skin,” he said.
“Some chemical and all-natural sanitisers provide longer-term protection after application, which reduces cross contamination.
“Recent events have illustrated why we should be aware of what we are putting on our skin.”
How to choose a good hand sanitiser:
• Alcohol-based products – if the formula is under 60% alcohol content it not effective. Formulas between 60 and 80% alcohol are effective against germs. However, some people experience skin dryness and irritation with repeated use. Moisturising after application can be beneficial.
• Chemical sanitisers – these are alcohol-free and most are effective against germs. However, the ingredients such as benzalkonium chloride or hydrogen peroxide are toxic and can cause skin irritation.
• All-natural sanitisers – alcohol-free hand sanitisers are available. Ensure they have been scientifically tested against 99.9% of germs.
• Look at the packaging – avoid containers that children may mistake for food or drink. Avoid bright and colourful packaging that may be attractive to children.
• Avoid home-made sanitisers – the formula may be ineffective or even dangerous.
Mr Malone said it was important consumers were aware of the contents in hand sanitisers to avoid any negative consequences.
The Department of Health recommends people use soap and water whenever possible and to use sanitiser when soap and water is not available.
The WorkSafe Australia website has also warned businesses involved in supplying hand sanitisers that their ingredients, such as ethanol and isopropanol, can cause severe eye irritation.
“Hydrogen peroxide is an oxidizer and is corrosive to the skin and eyes,” said WorkSafe.