Parents have been reminded to watch their children when applying hand sanitizer because a toxic chemical in some hand sanitizers can be absorbed through the skin.
The warning comes amid renewed calls for Australians to uphold Covid safeguards.
NSW Health on Sunday urged residents to maintain hygiene protocols as the state recorded 9303 new daily infections and five more deaths.
The department said it was important to use hand sanitizer to ‘keep those germs away’ and offered application advice for the product to work effectively.
NSW Health tweeted: ‘The amount you use matters.
‘Apply a handful of alcohol-based sanitizer to cover all surfaces of your hands and rub your hands using the correct technique until they are dry (20-30 seconds).’
Australians have been warned about the potential dangers of hand sanitizer as health officials call on people to maintain COVID safety measures
However, the department cautions that it is dangerous if the disinfectant is swallowed, and can be toxic in some cases – especially to young children.
He wrote, ‘Imported hand sanitizer will often not be clearly labeled and may contain methanol and other strong alcohol products that are even more toxic.
Methanol is one of three types of alcohol used in hand sanitizer products, and its consumption can lead to blindness and death.
Some experts fear that the chemical could be absorbed through children’s skin, causing long-term health problems.
“Children can actually absorb enough methanol through their skin to be toxic,” Dr. Gregory Poland, Mayo Clinic’s infectious diseases doctor, told the Globe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 15 cases of methanol poisoning associated with hand sanitizer use in Arizona and New Mexico last year.
Four patients died, and three had permanent loss of vision.
Overuse of ‘safe’ hand sanitizer can also have negative effects.
Poland said fears of COVID-19 could cause people using hand sanitizers to produce dangerous vapors that could irritate people’s skin and airways.
Due to the high alcohol content, frequent use of hand sanitizers can also cause skin irritation.
‘The skin is like a brick wall,’ Dr. Abigail Waldman, a dermatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told the Globe.
‘You have these bricks that protect it and hand sanitizer works so well that it often pokes holes in that brick wall.’
Bacteria can also eventually develop resistance to hand sanitizer if they are exposed to it excessively.
“You can actually acquire resistance to hand sanitizer, which means you’ll develop resistance against the flora or the specific bacteria or virus you’re using,” Waldman said.
NSW Health urges parents to ‘always watch young children as they apply hand sanitizer and then put the bottle in a safe place so they cannot use it without your supervision’.
‘If you think your child has swallowed hand sanitizer, even in small amounts, call the 24-hour Poison Information Center on 13 11 26 for first aid and monitoring advice. [and] Keep the bottle with you when you call.’
Reports of toxic helplines skyrocket during pandemic as hand sanitizer becomes a popular household item
The precautions are being taken after incidents of poisoning of children during the COVID pandemic as hand sanitizers have become a popular household item.
In April 2020, the New South Wales Poison Information Center received 164 calls about hand sanitizer poisoning – up from just 65 during the same month a year earlier.
Under safety guidelines, NSW Health says washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is ideal, but alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be used if the first option is not available.
The advice continues, ‘Follow the directions on the bottle – the amount you use and how long you take to apply it affects how well it works.
‘It is important to remember that if hand sanitizer is left in the heat, the alcohol in it will evaporate and it will not work effectively, so do not leave it in the car in hot weather.’
NSW health guide on how to use hand sanitizer safely
Washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is a safe and effective option. When you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Follow the directions on the bottle – the amount you use and how long you take to apply it affects how well it works. It’s important to remember that if hand sanitizer is left in the heat, the alcohol in it will evaporate and won’t work as effectively, so don’t leave it in a car in hot weather.
Hand sanitizer can be dangerous if swallowed, and in some cases can be toxic, especially for children. Imported hand sanitizer will often not be clearly labeled and may contain methanol and other strong alcohol products that are even more toxic.
Always watch young children as they apply hand sanitizer and then put the bottle in a safe place so that they cannot use it without your supervision.
If you think your child has swallowed hand sanitizer, even in small amounts, call the 24-hour Poison Information Center Launch 13 11 26 for first aid and monitoring advice. Carry a bottle of hand sanitizer with you when you call.