Hand Sanitizer: Do you know what you’re buying?

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

Make sure your hand sanitizer comes from a trusted source where it’s analyzed frequently

Brandable Dispenser Box containing 20 bottles of 60 ml sanitizer gel by Kingly. Made in Europe.

Hand sanitizer is here to stay. As economies step towards normality there should be hand sanitizer everywhere: in offices, restaurants, factories, public buildings, canteens and shops. But will it be what it says on the label?

Fake vs Genuine: how to tell?

Reputable manufacturers work hard to make sure their products are effective, reliable, and value for money. Sadly, there are always profiteers out for a quick buck. It can be hard to spot a fake. High-quality printing and the ‘professionalization’ of the criminal world means that it can be very difficult to tell real products from the counterfeit.

Fortunately, there are some useful quick checks. Look at the promises made on the label. If it specifically promises to defeat Coronavirus (Covid-19), there is a good chance it has been mislabelled, is a fake, or both. In most countries, products that claim to protect against specific illnesses will be regulated as a medicine and not sold off the shelf or bought online as we do today. And if you can’t see manufacturers' details and country of origin, alarm bells should ring!

If you have more time, consider laboratory analysis. Not everyone can do this, so the general public depends upon manufacturers and local authorities testing hand sanitizer regularly and publishing the results.

What should a hand sanitizer contain?

Genuine hand sanitizers will be based on ethanol or isopropyl alcohol (IPA). To be effective, they must contain at least 60% ethanol or 70% IPA by volume. Non-alcohol based hand sanitizers (eg with triclosan) are less effective and are not recommended in the context of Coronavirus (Covid19). You can see The WHO guidelines for sanitizer formulations here and here.

Criminals are quick.

Birmingham UK, mid March: bottled hand sanitizer was seized, some without labels. Others, sold as ‘Glutaral’, contained glutaraldehyde - a cleaning product that’s not approved for human skin contact. It can cause irritation to the skin and to the eyes and throat.

West London UK, early April: over 750 hand sanitizer products seized, which did not comply with the law. Apparently imports, they did not have a full list of ingredients – some had none.

France, in mid May: the French fraud office recalled Symex brand hand sanitizer gel. It contained just 27% alcohol, far under the recommended minimum of 60% required to be effective.

Heathrow Airport, UK, late May: large quantities of incorrectly labeled face masks, some with fake safety certificates, plus 8,000 bottles of ‘hand sanitizer’ branded Andrex and Comfort. They had identical packaging and labeling, except for the brand name, and the same batch code on the entire consignment.

Campbellville, Guyana, Mar/April: bottles of Purcill brand hand sanitizer (labeled as made in China, distributed through Miami) claimed 62% alcohol content; it was 0.53%.

Poison in a handy bottle

And recently the US FDA revealed that some tested products actually contained methanol – industrial alcohol not for human consumption nor for use on human skin.

The FDA identified nine brands of sanitizer labeled as being ‘Made in Mexico’ and ‘Produced by Eskbiochem SA de CV.’ Follow the link above for details of the individual brands.

‘(6/19/2020) FDA tested samples of [Eskbiochem’s] Lavar Gel and CleanCare No Germ. Lavar Gel contains 81 percent (v/v) methanol and no ethyl alcohol, and CleanCare No Germ contains 28 percent (v/v) methanol. Methanol is not an acceptable ingredient for hand sanitizers and should not be used due to its toxic effects.’

That wasn’t all:

Update [6/29/2020] FDA is alerting consumers of Saniderm Products and UVT Inc.’s voluntary recall of Saniderm Advanced Hand Sanitizer. Following FDA’s recommendation, two distributors – Saniderm Products and UVT – agreed to recall Saniderm Advanced Hand Sanitizer packaged in 1-liter plastic bottles and labeled with “Made in Mexico” and “Produced by: Eskbiochem SA de CV.”

  • The UVT hand sanitizer is labeled with lot number 0530 and an expiration date of 04/2022.

  • The Saniderm Products hand sanitizer is labeled with lot number 53131626 and “Manufactured on April/1/20.”

It’s not the end of the story. Across the world, unscrupulous producers are making and selling hand sanitizer which is ineffective or poisonous. Some promises are just lies.

A small case study

At Kingly, our hygiene range includes hand sanitizer. We sell a variety of bottle sizes and refills. Our sanitizer uses ethanol at a minimum of 80%. We’re scrupulous about quality control and value for money. We are more than a little sensitive when cheaper brands – currently from Asia, but they could come from anywhere – claim to be the real thing but are not.

Recently we took one such product, and with an open mind sent it for testing at a nearby commercial lab, Komihris Analytical Centre for Laboratory Tests in Sofia. This is what we sent:

Three things caught our attention: no manufacturer’s name or country of origin, it claims 75% alcohol and has the claim that it is “supplied by” the British union flag. Perhaps they meant ‘Made in Britain.’ So, we sent off four 60ml samples and waited. These were tested using the method ILT 38/2011 GC FID (flame-ionization in gas chromatography). The result? The samples came back with an ethanol content of 57.11% - not the promised 75% - also below the minimum required 60%.

What can the industry stamp out the fakes?

Manufacturers can do two things. First, make sure their own products are beyond reproach. This requires relentless quality control and testing. Second, call out the fraudsters and alert the public to the risks of buying anything which can’t (or at least, couldn’t) be checked easily. It seems bizarre, but people’s lives are at risk.

Compliance and testing go hand in hand.

At Kingly, that’s exactly what we do. Frequent laboratory testing is essential to ensure that our sanitizer maintains its constant high quality. It’s important to have certification showing the product meets or exceeds all necessary benchmarks. We test routinely and often, so we know that all our products are fully compliant with EU legislation – in this case, certificated for EN 1267 and 14476. We do this so our customers know they can rely on us. We want Kingly customers to feel safe with our products and we want them be safe too.

We recognize people can get cynical about quality assurance – so every two weeks we submit randomly selected items from our production line and get them tested, just as we tested our case study above. We need to know that our manufacturing process is secure and that it delivers the same best quality every time. Then we make sure it reaches the consumer in good condition. Our hand sanitizer comes in robust containers, has reliable pumps when needed, and has strong packaging to ensure safe delivery. We know that our sanitizer gel is good value and it hurts to see consumers buy alternatives that are cheaper because they are ineffective or dangerous.

If you make hand sanitizer, we urge you, do it well and do it transparently. If you’re buying hand sanitizer, do so with thought and care. --

Kingly makes and supplies hand sanitizer guaranteed to be 80% ethanol. It’s available in 5ml mono-doses, 60 ml, 250 ml, 400 ml, 500 ml, 1-litre, 5-liter drums, and the all-new Dispenser Box containing 20 bottles of 60 ml sanitizer gel. All goods can be branded with your own label with your logo and marketing message. We can also provide you will convenient hand sanitizer gel stations and wall dispensers. Contact us today and book your order: service@wearekingly.com

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