Hand sanitizers were in high demand during the peak of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
But since last year, 21 hand sanitizer brands had been recalled or banned in the U.S. as data revealed that these products contain a cancer-causing chemical. They were among the 168 brands tested last year by independent lab Valisure.
Thousands of products made in China, South Korea and America were pulled from shelves between April 2021 and September 2022.
According to data, hand sanitizers like gels and sprays contained dangerous levels of benzene, a carcinogen that’s included in the government’s most dangerous solvent list.
Benzene is normally detected in crude oil, plastics, resins, some dyes and pesticides.
When rubbed onto the hands even in very small doses, benzene can seep through your skin and into the bloodstream. The chemical can then stop cells from working correctly. (Related: Are you overusing hand sanitizer? Doctors say this could lead to blindness and even death.)
Benzene is linked to leukemia and other blood disorders. Additionally, overexposure to benzene can prevent bone marrow from producing enough red blood cells, which can lead to anemia and blood cancer.
Benzene can also harm the immune system by changing blood levels of antibodies and eliminating white blood cells.
Many banned hand sanitizer brands target children
The recalls and bans were for specific batches of products. But many of these hand sanitizers showed up again on store shelves after the contamination issue was addressed. Some foreign-made products have been banned completely after failing to comply with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) request for a recall.
Unfortunately, some of the products may have been targeted at children since the packaging includes popular characters from Disney shows and movies, Yoda from Star Wars and Spiderman.
The hand sanitizers listed below have either been recalled by the FDA or had an import ban enforced because of benzene contamination.
- Antica Ocean Citron hand sanitizer gel 65%, made by Salon Technologies International
- AOMI hand sanitizer gel and spray, made by Mirfeel Korea Co.
- Artnaturals scent free hand sanitizer natural elements, sold by Virgin Scents dba artnaturals.
- The Australian Wellness Co. Instant hand sanitizer with natural extracts, made by Mirfeel Korea Co.
- Best Brand Consumers Products’ Disney Princess hand sanitizer, made by Ningbo Haishu Huayu Industry & Trade
- Best Brand Consumers Products’ Disney Frozen II hand sanitizer, made by Ningbo Haishu Huayu Industry & Trade
- Best Brand Consumers Products’ hand sanitizer, made by Ningbo Haishu Huayu Industry & Trade
- Best Brand Consumers Products’ hand sanitizer kills germs, made by Ningbo Haishu Huayu Industry & Trade
- Best Brand Consumers Products’ Marvel Spiderman hand sanitizer, made by Ningbo Haishu Huayu Industry & Trade
- Best Brand Consumers Products’ Star Wars Mandalorian hand sanitizer, made by Ningbo Haishu Huayu Ind.
- CALA advanced hand sanitizer with aloe vera extract, made by David Cosmetic Co. Ltd.
- The Creme Shop’s moisturizing hand sanitizer peppermint scent, made by Mirfeel Korea Co.
- The Creme Shop’s moisturizing hand sanitizers with various scents, made by Mirfeel Korea Co.
- CoSo Health hand sanitizer, made by Mirfeel Korea Co.
- Fresh Lemon Citron Frais Scented hand sanitizer, made by Scentsational Soaps and Candles
- Hand sanitizer isopropyl alcohol antiseptic 75% topical solution, made by Bluebonnet Petrochemical Solutions
- International sanitizing hand spray 80%, made by Salon Technologies International
- Photo Real Collection hand sanitizer, made by Scentsational Soaps and Candles
- Scentsationalize sanitizer non-sterile solution alcohol antiseptic 70% topical, made by Scentsational Soaps and Candles
- SS Black and White Collection, made by Scentsational Soaps and Candles
- TerraPure hand sanitizer, made by Mirfeel Korea Co.
Data revealed that many of the hand sanitizers contained more than the interim legal limit of two parts per million (ppm) of benzene, which was in place during the COVID-19 pandemic to help meet the increasing demand for production in 2020.
Other products were recalled despite containing much lower levels when the limit was brought to zero this 2022.
Benzene sometimes ends up in hand sanitizers during the manufacturing process as the gels are treated to remove any impurities. Purification is done using a chemical made with benzene, which can sometimes still contain trace amounts of the harmful chemical.
The scale of the health impact of benzene-contaminated hand sanitizers in America remains to be fully understood, but there have been no reported injuries to date.
Artnaturals faced the biggest recall in 2021 when 34 different brands had to be returned following benzene contamination fears.
Three lots of Ulta Beauty’s fresh lemon-scented spray hand sanitizer had been recalled. The company is operated by Scentsational Soaps and Candles.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the FDA relaxed rules governing hand sanitizers and they allowed unregulated manufacturers to produce the then in-demand products if they followed a certain method.
The FDA also brought in a temporary legal limit of up to two ppm of benzene permitted in hand sanitizers to help expedite production following fears of a national shortage. But the loophole was junked earlier this 2022 as the FDA announced that there was now enough hand sanitizer available in the country.
The most recent hand sanitizer recall occurred in September 2022 for a product made in Florida – a sanitizing hand spray from Salon Technologies International. The FDA asked the company to issue a voluntary recall after data showed that the product contained benzene.
Hand sanitizers from Ningbo Haishu Huayu Industry and Trade in China and Mirfeel Korea Co. in South Korea are now banned in America after the two companies failed to issue a recall when benzene was found in their products.