Published August 25, 2023
Washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to protect yourself and others from bacteria and viruses that may cause illness. Handwashing should be done frequently throughout the day, especially before preparing food and eating or after tasks such as going to the bathroom, coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. However, soap and water may not always be readily available. When this happens, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. These products should be rubbed all over the front and back of your hands and between your fingers. Be sure to allow the hand sanitizer to dry naturally.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are regulated as over-the-counter (OTC) or nonprescription drugs by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, it is important to know that, in certain circumstances, they can be dangerous. To stay safe, pay careful attention to the warnings section of the product’s Drug Facts label. Also, keep the following information in mind:
Check the FDA’s list of alcohol-based hand sanitizers that should not be used. During product testing, the FDA found serious safety concerns with certain hand sanitizers. Examples include contamination with potentially toxic types of alcohol; false, misleading, or unproven claims; and products that do not contain enough active ingredients (ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol). Consumers can find the up-to-date link here .
Never swallow alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause severe injury or death if swallowed.
Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizers out of reach of children. Always supervise children while they use hand sanitizers. Swallowing even small amounts of hand sanitizer can be toxic to young children (but eating food with their hands or licking their hands after the hand sanitizer has dried is safe). Some hand sanitizers come in scents, are brightly colored, and come in toy-like packaging that may be attractive to toddlers. Always keep hand sanitizer up and away and out of sight from children. Avoid keychain-like containers that children can easily access.
Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizers out of your eyes. If the hand sanitizer accidentally gets in your eye, it can cause severe injury, including severe irritation and damage to the surface of the eye. Immediately rinse your eye with running water for at least 15-20 minutes. If symptoms such as redness, pain, irritation, visual changes, blurred vision, or light sensitivity continue after rinsing, seek immediate medical attention.
Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers in a well-ventilated area. Vapors from hand sanitizer may lead to symptoms such as headache, nausea, and dizziness if used in enclosed spaces, or places (like in a car) with poor air circulation.
Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizers away from pets. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be toxic to pets. Never use them on your pets. Be sure your pet cannot reach them or they could mistake it for a chew toy. Also, be on alert for spilled hand sanitizer your pet can inhale or lick. If you think your pet has come in contact with a large amount of hand sanitizer, call your veterinarian or a pet poison control center right away.
Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizers away from heat and flames. The alcohol in hand sanitizers makes them flammable. After using hand sanitizer, rub your hands until they feel completely dry, especially before activities that may involve heat, sparks, static electricity, or open flames.
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