Millions of people use hand sanitizers daily, believing them to safely kill bacteria. Now the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in the United States is giving manufacturers of hand sanitizers and other related products who claim their products provide protection from bacteria, one year’s time to prove their claim and show that the active ingredients in their products actually reduce bacteria and are harmless in the long run.
While washing your hands with soap and running water remains one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading infections to others, hand sanitizers are a convenient option in the absence of soap and water.
The FDA now wants more data on the active ingredients in hand-sanitizing products such as towelettes, gels and rubs that purport to kill bacteria. Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is used in 90 percent of these hand cleaners, while other ingredients include isopropyl alcohol and benzalkonium chloride.
Officials said the request stems from new research and recommendations from an independent advisory committee of scientific and medical experts. Recent research has found that levels of antiseptic ingredients in users' urine and blood are higher than previously thought. This raises questions regarding absorption, since the antiseptics in hand sanitizers are not usually washed off.
The hand sanitizer industry responded to the FDA request by stating that it believed the FDA already had a wealth of data on hand sanitizers in their possession to judge them as generally recognized as safe and effective. However, the industry promised to work to provide additional data as necessary to ensure the agency has the most complete, useful, and up-to-date information on their beneficial products.
Meanwhile, doctors say that whether people choose a hand sanitizer or plain soap and water, they should scrub their hands for at least 20 seconds, especially below the nails and between the fingers to ensure removal of debris and bacteria.