Can the Use of Hand Sanitizers Cause Skin Rashes?

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On May 22, 2020, a Kenyan tweep shared the images below warning people to be careful with sanitizers being offered at shops and to passengers using public means of transport, as they are being mixed with substances that can cause rashes.

Background

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, which has now infected over 5 million people globally (keep tabs on our tracker for the latest updates), there have been numerous recommendations by public health organizations on measures to take to prevent infection. Among them is regular handwashing with soap and water or the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

Sanitizers contain antiseptic agents used to cleanse hands and they offer protection by preventing or reducing bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that can cause infections.

Their increased demand has given unscrupulous traders an opportunity to introduce fake/uncertified sanitizers into the market, to unsuspecting buyers.

Verification

Reverse searches of the images in circulation show that they are actually from a South African lady, who got affected after using a hand sanitizer. She shared her plight on Twitter on May 21, 2020. The Kenyan tweep just happened to use cropped image versions of the original.

According to News24 and on her Twitter feed, the lady revealed that it was a case of contact dermatitis. She got her first reaction from office sanitizers that were introduced when the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in South Africa in March. Her second reaction was at a store where security guards insisted on spraying her hands so that she could be allowed in, which made the ulcerations and irritation worse.

Hand sanitizers can cause irritant contact dermatitis, as some of the ingredients (alcohol, fragrances and dyes) can act as allergens, hence the rashes and ulcerations on the hands.

Business Insider South Africa warned that ‘dodgy hand sanitizer’ sprayed at stores could cause rashes and even hallucinations after some South Africans complained of the same.

Here in Kenya, there have been complaints of sub-standard hand sanitizers as well. The Kenya Bureau of Standards, KEBS, raised an alarm on the influx of fake hand sanitizers since the first COVID-19 case in the country was announced.  On March 17, KEBS issued a press statement to the public on hand sanitizers and hand wipes.

From the statement, to check the validity of the Standardization Mark permit on sanitizers, send the code (numbers) underneath the Standardization Mark logo to 20023, to get product manufacturing details and permit validity status or for imported products.

On March 19, local media reported the seizure of uncertified sanitizers in Nairobi and Nakuru by KEBS. Raids followed this on March 28, where uncertified sanitizers produced by Laser Chemicals were seized in Saika Estate and another on April 9 at the entrance of Juja City Mall where hand sanitizers bearing a permit of Majesty drinking water were seized for misusing the permit.

More raids recently in Kitui, Kajiado and Bomet counties have resulted in similar seizures.

Last week, the standards body announced the withdrawal of permits and subsequent banishment from the market of eight hand sanitizer brands, for not meeting its set standards.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is essential, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing one’s nose is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus. If soap and water are not available, the CDC recommends that consumers use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

In case you experience a rash or any other reaction to a hand sanitizer, seek medical advice immediately. The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) also encourages reporting of adverse effects to their MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program.

The FDA also issued guidance on the temporary preparation of alcohol-based hand sanitizers by some companies and pharmacies during the public health emergency posed by COVID-19. They, however, discourage consumers from making their own sanitizers, as they can be ineffective, leaving them exposed to infection.

Verdict

Though the context in the claim may vary, it is true that sanitizers contain ingredients that can act as allergens causing skin irritation and rashes. There is also enough evidence that there are fake sanitizers in the market and not just in Kenya, making the claim TRUE.

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Peris Gachahi

Peris Gachahi is a reporter at Africa Uncensored.She is passionate about human interest stories told through in-depth documentaries, data stories and digital storytelling.