Health and Science

FDA places import alert on hand sanitizers from Mexico after discovering 'dangerous levels' of toxic ingredients

Key Points
  • The FDA placed an import alert on alcohol-based hand sanitizers from Mexico.
  • More than half of the hand sanitizers tested by the FDA contained toxic ingredients like methanol.
  • Methanol is toxic when absorbed through skin, and deadly when ingested.
A health personnel dispenses hand sanitizer in Leon, Mexico.
Leopoldo Smith | Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration has placed an import alert on alcohol-based hand sanitizers imported from Mexico after testing revealed more than half of the products contained "dangerous levels" of toxic ingredients, including methanol and 1-propanal.

Under the import alert, which was announced Tuesday, the hand sanitizers will be subject to increased FDA scrutiny. Shipments that violate the FDA's rules can be halted altogether, the agency said. It's the first time the FDA has issued a countrywide import alert for any category of drug products.

"Today's actions are necessary to protect the safe supply of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. We will continue to work with our stakeholders to ensure the availability of safe products and to communicate vital information with the health and safety of U.S. consumers in mind," said Judy McMeekin, FDA associate commissioner for regulatory affairs.

Methanol is potentially toxic when absorbed through the skin and can be deadly if ingested, the FDA said. The imported products were labeled as containing ethanol, also known as ethyl-alcohol, but testing confirmed contamination with methanol.

The tests conducted by the FDA found that 84% of the samples analyzed from April through December 2020 violated FDA regulations, and more than half contained toxic substances at levels dangerous for human consumption. The symptoms from exposure can include vomiting, seizures, blindness, effects on the central nervous system and hospitalizations and death, with young children being most at risk, the agency said.

The FDA urged consumers who think they've been exposed to contaminated hand sanitizer and are experiencing symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.