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Toxic methanol that causes blindness found in hand sanitizers, U.S. FDA warns

Methanol is toxic when ingested, inhaled, and absorbed through the skin

Beth Mole, arsTECHNICA

The US Food and Drug Administration on Monday advised consumers to avoid nine types of hand sanitizers that may contain methanol, a toxic alcohol that can cause blindness if swallowed and systemic effects if absorbed through the skin.

All nine hand sanitizers are made by Eskbiochem SA de CV in Mexico. The agency said in its advisory that it discovered methanol while testing two of the company’s products. One, called Lavar Gel, was 81-percent methanol—and no ethanol, a safe alcohol meant to be used in hand sanitizers. Another, CleanCare No Germ, was 28-percent methanol.

“Methanol is not an acceptable ingredient for hand sanitizers,” the FDA wrote. With use of hand sanitizers at a high amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency advised that anyone who has used the methanol-containing products “seek immediate treatment, which is critical for potential reversal of toxic effects of methanol poisoning.”


Methanol, the simplest alcohol, is extremely poisonous and can cause harm if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. It’s often associated with incorrectly distilled liquor. Drinking as little as 30 milliliters—1 ounce or 2 tablespoons—can be fatal to children. Smaller doses can cause permanent blindness.

Inside the body, methanol is metabolized to formaldehyde, then to formic acid. This can lead to metabolic acidosis, a dangerous buildup of acid in the body that can cause organ damage. Formic acid can also accumulate in the optic nerve, causing severe damage that can lead to permanent blindness.

According to safety documents, symptoms of poisoning by ingestion can manifest as gastrointestinal irritation—with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea—and central nervous system depression, causing headache, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, and an intoxicated feeling. This can progress to rapid breathing, slowed heart rate, kidney dysfunction, loss of consciousness, coma, and death.

When inhaled, it can immediately cause dizziness, nausea, headache, and vomiting. This is followed by a latent period with no apparent symptoms as metabolic acidosis develops. Then systemic effects appear, including vision problems.

Absorbed through the skin, methanol can cause the same systemic effects and vision problems. Prolonged exposure to skin can cause defatting of the skin as well as irritation.

Poisonous products

The FDA noted that “although all persons using these products on their hands are at risk, young children who accidentally ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol (ethanol) substitute, are most at risk for methanol poisoning.”

In puzzling comments to The New York Times, a representative of Eskbiochem, Alexander Escamillo, said that the company did not send products to the FDA for testing or register with the agency. Rather, a person Escamillo described as a “broker” registered the company and sent the samples. Meanwhile, employees of Eskbiochem did not even know how to log in to the company’s FDA account. Escamillo added that the company would never “send a toxic chemical maliciously” but that it planned to take action against the broker for sending products to the FDA.

The FDA recommends that if you have any of the products, you should stop using them immediately and dispose of them in appropriate hazardous waste containers. “Do not flush or pour these products down the drain,” the agency advised.

The nine hand sanitizers made by Eskbiochem are:

  • All-Clean Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-002-01)
  • Esk Biochem Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-007-01)
  • CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 75% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-008-04)
  • Lavar 70 Gel Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-006-01)
  • The Good Gel Antibacterial Gel Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-010-10)
  • CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 80% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-005-03)
  • CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 75% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-009-01)
  • CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 80% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-003-01)
  • Saniderm Advanced Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-001-01)

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