The rules and issues around the COVID-19 pandemic continue to evolve and information changes consistently. Please take note of when our content was written and always go to the sources we’ve provided for the most current guidance.
If you’re using hand sanitizers, it’s important to ensure that you’re choosing products that are safe and effective against COVID-19. To help you do that, we’re sharing some helpful information from the Government of Canada.
What about hand washing?
According to the BC CDC, washing your hands with soap and hot water is still the most effective strategy for reducing your risk.
Soap actively destroys the surface of the virus. Additionally, washing your hands with soap will reduce how much of the virus is left on your skin. For more information on effective hand washing, check out the BC CDC’s resources.
How effective are hand sanitizers against COVID-19?
However, if soap and water are not available, COVID-19 can be killed by hand sanitizers so long as you use appropriate products that have been proven to be safe and effective.
To check if a hand sanitizer is appropriate to use against COVID-19:
- Locate the Natural Product Number (NPN) or Drug Identification Number (DIN) on the product label
- Look for that number on Health Canada’s Approved Hand Sanitizers list
Even if a product has been approved by Health Canada, it can only be used safely, as directed. Directions for use can be found on the product label, if you’re unsure.
Hand sanitizers should not be ingested by anyone. Additionally, you should keep hand sanitizers away from children (or areas where children can access them, unsupervised).
What to do if you can’t find hand sanitizer:
The BC CDC warns against making your own hand sanitizer, or using non-approved products. These may present health risks (i.e. skin irritation, increased sensitivity or allergies) and give a false sense of security.
If you don’t have access to hand sanitizer, and you do have access to clean, running water and soap, you should practice good hand hygiene by regularly washing your hands (for 20 seconds with soap and water).
What are the dangers of hand sanitizers?
All hand sanitizers, including those approved by Health Canada can be dangerous if used improperly. Always use approved products and check the product labels for correct use.
Here are some warnings to consider when using hand sanitizers:
- Hand sanitizers are for external use only and can be harmful if they’re used improperly.
- Avoid contact with the eyes. If contact does occur, rinse thoroughly with water.
- Stop use and seek help from a doctor or healthcare provider if irritation develops.
- Keep out of reach of children. If you think someone has swallowed any amount of hand sanitizer, call a poison control centre or get medical help right away.
- In BC, the toll-free number for Poison Control is 1-800-567-8911.
- In Greater Vancouver you can call Poison Control at 604-682-5050.
- Keep away from open flame and sources of heat. Hand sanitizers can be flammable.
Some hand sanitizers come in packaging that could be mistaken for a beverage container. If you have hand sanitizer in a bottle or can that could be mistaken for a beverage container, transfer the hand sanitizer into a different container (i.e. a spray bottle) that has been emptied, cleaned and dried. You could also clearly label the container and replace the cap of the bottle with a pump to help reduce confusion.
What else to know:
- Using hand sanitizer can be a convenient option when washing your hands isn’t easily accessible. However, it is only one prevention method against COVID-19 and must be used in combination with other prevention methods (like physical distancing, good hand hygiene, staying home when you’re sick, etc.) to be effective.
- If you want to use hand sanitizer and your hands are soiled, you should use a wipe to clean your hands before using hand sanitizer.
- You can also find information about disinfectants and household cleaners on the Government of Canada website, and in our “which disinfectants work” blog post.
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- False and misleading COVID-19 medical claims
- How to keep others safe when you’re sick
- Masks and COVID-19: what we know right now
- What to know about removing and sanitizing face masks
Where do we fit in?
Yes, we are a provincial regulator. We are responsible for some very specific transactions in BC. We aren’t experts on COVID-19. We won’t – and shouldn’t – ever give medical or legal advice. But we are in a unique circumstance right now and we want to help people navigate the current reality. We don’t have all the answers, but we will do our best to share information from reliable sources, put it in ways that are easy to digest and understand, provide referrals and help you navigate this situation.
About Consumer Protection BC:
We are responsible for regulating specific industries and certain consumer transactions in British Columbia. If your concern is captured under the laws we enforce, we will use the tools at our disposal to assist you. If we can’t help you directly, we will be happy to provide you with as much information as possible. Depending on your concern, another organization may be the ones to speak to; other times, court or legal assistance may be the best option. Explore our website at www.consumerprotectionbc.ca.