If all hand sanitizers were safe to use, Health Canada would not have needed to recall six hand sanitizers containing industrial-grade ethanol. There is no reason to assume hand sanitizers being sold in the United States and elsewhere are also not contaminated with harmful compounds. In fact, the United States FDA has found significant levels of the carcinogen acetaldehyde in ethanol supplied by a company for use in hand sanitizer in the United States.
Ethanol must be denatured prior to being formulated into hand sanitizers. This is done to make the ethanol unfit for human consumption. Some compounds used to denature ethanol are toxic and can be absorbed through the skin and cause cancer and other problems. FDA has specifically specified two formulas (a PDF file) to denature ethanol for use in hand sanitizers during the COVID-19 epidemic. Those are the only denatured ethanol formulations approved for hand sanitizers.
When Mesa Lavender Farms first looked into using ethanol for our hand sanitizer, we were offered a denatured formulation at a fairly reasonable price. It took a while to find out how the alcohol was denatured, and we discovered it was denatured with compounds that were deadly. Needless to say, we did not go that route. While it costs more to do things right, we were not willing to gamble with the health of our staff or customers.
When you make hand sanitizer at home you might be encouraged to purchase small containers of denatured alcohol. Many of the labels on these containers mention death and blindness; this should give you a clue it is not the type of alcohol you should be applying to your skin.
Mesa Lavender Farms uses USP Isopropyl alcohol in our formulations. USP stands for United States Pharmacopeia, meaning the alcohol we use is a pharmaceutical-grade product. Not all pure alcohol meets the USP standards. Only 190 and higher proof alcohol which meets or exceeds the stringent specifications of purity by the USP can be classified as such. This is the same grade of alcohol used by health professions as an antiseptic to disinfect skin prior to injections.
The isopropyl alcohol we use is also ACS grade. This is a grade even higher than USP, indicating a chemical grade of the highest purity meeting or exceeding the purity standards set by the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Some hand sanitizer formulations may use the industrial (technical) grade isopropyl alcohol. While this grade is great for commercial and industrial purposes it is not pure enough to be offered for food, drug, or medicinal use of any kind.
The problem one has in selecting a hand sanitizer is the label may be missing. This is your first clue this is not a quality product. I see bottles of such hand sanitizers in stores throughout the area. I’m not willing to apply such a product to my skin. Neither should you.
In addition, the formulator may not use USP grade ingredients to produce their products. Mesa Lavender Farms hand sanitizer is formulated from ACS/USP grade isopropyl alcohol, USP grade glycerin, as well as UN2014 hydrogen peroxide as an antiseptic. Our formulation is in compliance with FDA requirements.
You can find Mesa Lavender Farms non-gel hand sanitizer at https://mesalavenderfarms.com/product-category/hand-sanitizers/.