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Potential carcinogen found in tests of hand sanitizers

Hand sanitizer stock
Some batches of hand sanitizer could contain a cancer-causing chemical, according to a pharmaceutical monitoring company claim. (Source: Adobe Stock)

The use of hand sanitizer products has exploded since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 70% of U.S. adults now saying they use hand sanitizers multiple times every day, according to Statista. But there may be reason for caution when pouring on this pandemic staple.

In March, an online pharmacy company called Valisure, which also conducts periodic monitoring of drug products to ensure their safety, petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to recall several batches of hand sanitizer after announcing that it had detected benzene, which is known to cause cancer in humans, in samples of multiple brands.

Because the public health crisis surrounding COVID-19 created a shortage of hand sanitizer, the FDA in 2020 set a temporary limit of 2 parts per million (ppm) for benzene in these products. However, Valisure’s petition stated that a sizable percentage of the batches of hand sanitizer it tested were found to contain more than the FDA’s limit.

Out of 260 unique batches of hand sanitizer Valisure analyzed from 168 brands, 17% contained benzene levels of at least 0.1 ppm, the company’s testing found. Twenty-one batches (8%), which included both liquid and gel hand sanitizers, contained benzene above the 2 ppm interim limit. The highest level of benzene detected was 16.1 ppm, more than eight times the limit.

Valisure CEO David Light said the company’s findings indicate that contamination with benzene is “a batch-to-batch problem.” At this point, he added, Valisure cannot specify whether buying a certain brand of hand sanitizer over another can prevent being exposed to benzene contamination. 

The FDA is currently reviewing Valisure’s petition.

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