sanitizerFederal health officials are currently investigating whether or not hand sanitizers—the very same hand sanitizers already used by millions of Americans—actually work as well as manufacturers claim they do.  Perhaps more importantly, the FDA wants to know if their continued and growing use contributes to more health risks.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration, new studies are needed to better determine how the antiseptic gels and rubs actually fight off the germs and then get absorbed into the body to continue this fight.  As you might expect the primary area of focus is the efficacy of santizers with children and pregnant women.  Furthermore, this proposal is part of an ongoing government effort to expedite the review of decades of chemicals that have never actually received a comprehensive federal review.

“These products provide a convenient alternative when hand washing with plain soap and water is unavailable, but it’s our responsibility to determine whether these products are safe and effective so that consumers can be confident when using them on themselves and their families multiple times a day,” explains Dr. Janet Woodcock, who is the director of the United States FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Specifically, the agency wants more data on the active ingredient found in sanitizing products. This includes not just the small gels but also towelettes, gels, and rubs which, as the labels all claim, of course, kill [up to 99.9 percent] of bacteria.  In 90 percent of these products, some form of alcohol—ethanol or ethyl alcohol—is an “active ingredient.”  However, the study aims to investigate isopropyl alcohol and benzalkonium chloride as well.

Presently, the CDC recommends using these alcohol-based hand sanitizers (but only require 60 percent alcohol by volume).  Woodcock goes on to say, “Today, consumers are using antiseptic rubs more frequently at home, work, school and in other public settings where the risk of infection is relatively low.”

And, in true industry fashion, American Cleaning Institute executive vice president for technical and international affairs, Richard Sedlak, comments, “We believe that the FDA has a wealth of data on hand sanitizers in their possession to judge them as generally recognized as safe and effective. However, we will work to provide additional data as necessary to ensure the agency has the most complete, useful, and up-to-date information on these beneficial products.”