Is Your Hand Sanitizer Safe? What You Need to Know About Technical Grade Alcohol and Cancer Risk
Updated: Sep 5
Not all hand sanitizers are created equal. In the wake of a growing list of Health Canada sanitizer recalls, here’s what you need to know about hand sanitizer safety in the Covid-19 age, and tips on how you can make an informed purchase to keep yourself and your family safe.
Fact: Health Canada has temporarily allowed technical grade alcohol to be used in the production of hand sanitizers.
Technical grade ethanol is cheaper than pharmaceutical grade ethanol but is not purified and tested to the same degree of quality.
Acetaldehyde is a potential carcinogen and is known to exist at high levels in technical grade ethanol.
Will my hand sanitizer increase my risk of getting cancer?
Health Canada says on its site that “hand sanitizers containing acetaldehyde can pose health risks if used more frequently and for a longer period than directed” but determines that “the public health benefit to limit the spread of COVID-19 outweighs the risks.”
In deciding for yourself, you may wish to consider how frequently you apply sanitizer each day, how much you apply per use, the concentration of ethanol in your product, and your intended duration of use. The greater the exposure to acetaldehyde, the greater the cancer risk.
What are some indicators I can look for that a sanitizer may be technical grade?
Read the label. Health Canada is requiring manufacturers to include the following warnings on labels for products using technical grade ethanol:
Do not use on broken or damaged skin
Do not use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
Do not inhale
Report any incident to Canada.ca/drug-device-reporting
Take a whiff. Technical grade ethanol characteristics include a pungent, unpleasant, or even tequila-like smell not present in higher-quality grades of ethanol. Even if the label does not display the required warnings, but your nose suggests the presence of technical grade ethanol, the manufacturer might be using a potentially harmful alcohol.
Think dollars and sense. Beware of cheaply priced sanitizers.The proper grade ethanol of ethanol is expensive. Is the price unrealistically low? This should raise concerns that the manufacturer might be violating Health Canada regulations.
The inside scoop
Industry professionals are seeing a potentially dangerous trend of which the public is not yet commonly aware: some manufacturers and distributors have begun to import ethanol manufactured offshore that may not be compliant with Canadian standards. This can be hazardous because you may be unknowingly exposing yourself to potential toxins.
Wait....you’re saying I can’t trust the product label?
Health Canada operates on a complaint-action basis to find and recall bad products. They do not screen, inspect, or test every product manufactured in Canada or imported for the Canadian market. In other words, it’s the honour system. Put your trust in the product label only insofar as you trust the manufacturer or brand.
What other precautions can I take to steer clear of potentially harmful sanitizers on the market?
Look for an NPN (Natural Product Number) and manufacturer address on the label. Contact the manufacturer and ask for a certificate of analysis. This document will show you not only the grade of alcohol being used, but also the tested amounts of toxins and by-products.
Go with a well-reputed brand you trust. Some brands go the extra mile to have their products independently certified for safety by organizations such as Certclean and Ecocert. These organizations provide the screening of ingredients right down to their sources that Health Canada doesn’t. Logos and stamps from such agencies provide an extra layer of reassurance as to the integrity of the brand.
There is absolutely no reason to play Russian roulette with your choice of hand sanitizer and your health. Choose well and with confidence, and the benefit will far outweigh any risk.
CoCoDot Affection specializes in certified safe, natural, and 100% toxin-free personal care products for eco-conscious kids and their families. Vegan and cruelty-free. Always made with Affection in Canada.