Hand sanitizers have become a hot commodity in the midst of COVID-19. But if they contain methanol, they can be highly toxic and even life-threatening if ingested or absorbed through the skin in large amounts.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning about this toxic chemical found in different kinds of hand sanitizers, most of them from Mexico, that are erroneously said to be labeled with ethanol — which is usually and more appropriately found in hand sanitizers.

Bruce Ruck, managing director of The New Jersey Poison Information and Education System at Rutgers, said methanol is the type of alcohol usually used to make antifreeze. It can be dangerous if someone drinks it, or rubs a lot of it into the skin.

Methanol has been known to cause blindness and neurological dysfunction. It can degrease the skin which may cause dermatitis. A person who has ingested methanol may also appear to be drunk.

Ruck said this is yet another reason why these products need to be kept away from children in particular.

People often don't know they've been exposed to methanol since there may be no symptoms early on, Ruck said. By the time someone realizes he or she has ingested methanol, it's usually too late.


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