Recipes for concoctions of homemade hand sanitizers are increasing online, but experts warn that many DIY solutions are ineffective or even harmful.
“You don’t want someone making their homemade hand sanitizers that might have a component that would cause some sort of toxic reaction on their hands,” said Dr. Alyson Kelvin, assistant professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax and member of the Canadian Center for Vaccinology.
“We don’t need people in hospitals anymore.”
Commercial hand sanitizer has been hard to come by in recent weeks as news of the spread of the COVID-19 virus prompted Canadians to clear store shelves.
Health Canada – which considers alcohol-based hand sanitizers as natural health products – authorizes products that may be sold in Canada and assigns each an eight-digit natural product number, which is displayed on the label of the product.
But faced with the shortage of hand sanitizing solutions and other equipment needed to fight the COVID-19 virus, such as masks, gowns and tampons, Health Canada decided to temporarily allow earlier this month the sale of certain products that do not meet certain requirements, such as licensing and bilingual labeling.
“The ministry is authorizing the sale of certain products in Canada that may not fully meet all the requirements of this interim measure,” the ministry said in a statement, noting that it maintains a list of products on its website that benefit from ‘a temporary approval.
To date, 14 hand sanitizers or disinfectant wipes have received temporary authorization. Some of them are imported.
The list currently does not include the many distilleries and breweries across the country that have announced plans to transform their skills into the production of hand sanitizers.
Many Canadians turn to social media for information on how to create their own – and some of this information is very misleading.
A YouTube video touting a concoction of witch hazel, tea tree oil and aloe vera has been viewed 1.8 million times. Another YouTube video, viewed 747,000 times in the past two weeks, recommends isopropyl rubbing alcohol at concentrations as low as 70% – a level that when mixed with other ingredients would not be enough to kill the virus.
Posts on sites like Facebook and Reddit have advised using things like vodka and tea tree oil to make your own hand sanitizer.
Many home remedies don’t work
The World Health Organization website has legitimate instructions to make a hand sanitizer that recommends using 96% ethanol or 99.8% isopropyl alcohol.
Experts say the best way to kill COVID 19 virus on your hands is to wash them properly with soap and water. If this is not an option, an effective hand sanitizer should have an alcohol concentration of at least 60 percent.
Kelvin said that one of the people who saw homemade disinfectant recipes on the Internet was his own daughter.
“My 10 year old daughter saw online that she could do it herself. It is a little alarming that even children see this.”
Kelvin said hand washing is the best approach because dirt or grease on your hands can interfere with hand sanitizers. She said it took at least 20 seconds for properly crafted hand sanitizers to deactivate the virus.
Although manufacturers can standardize the quality of their products and test individual batches, it is more difficult to do with homemade solutions, she said.
“There is no guarantee when you arrive at a rate of 60%.”
Vodka is not strong enough
Kelvin said she had not seen any studies on tea tree oil or witch hazel that could make viruses like COVID-19 inactive. And the vodka is not strong enough, she says.
“It’s probably not 60%, or our livers would not be doing very well.”
Even recipes that require highly concentrated alcohol can cause problems, Kelvin said.
“Most of the recipes are alcohol-based and it could cause skin problems or be toxic to your own hands, so be careful when looking at homemade recipes.”
Ada McVean, science communicator at the Office of Science and Society at McGill University, said there are many recipes.
“My great grandmother texted me the other day asking me to look at its formulation for a homemade hand sanitizer,” said McVean. “And when I calculated the percentage of its formulation, it was incredibly too low.”
Another potential danger: the 99% alcohol needed to make the disinfectant can be highly flammable, while certain other ingredients can cause allergic reactions.
“If you have never used tea tree oil or lavender essential oils, or any other oil or fragrance, or anything you have added to mask the smell, there is a huge risk of allergic reaction, “McVean said.
“Also, if you only use alcohol and don’t add anything like aloe vera … you could dry your skin to the point that it starts to crack, even at the microscopic level”, she said, adding that the new coronavirus could be hiding in these cracks.
That’s why, in the end, hand washing is better than hand sanitizer, said McVean.
Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at [email protected]
CBC’s COVID-Check unit is there to help you sift through the noise and find out the truth. If there is anything you want us to check and verify, contact us at [email protected]