U.S. regulators are warning that hand sanitizer imported from Mexico could be tainted with dangerous chemicals or not work effectively.
The Food and Drug Administration issued the warning Tuesday amid a pandemic that has dramatically increased demand for hand-cleaning products.
The FDA said it is applying an "import alert" to "all alcohol-based hand sanitizers from Mexico" in an attempt to "stop products that appear to be in violation from entering the U.S. until the agency is able to review the products' safety."
The move comes after the agency last year identified what it called a "sharp increase" in hand sanitizer from Mexico that tested positive for methanol. In 2020, the agency flagged more than 130 potentially dangerous or ineffective hand sanitizers that flooded the market since the COVID-19 outbreak.
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Methanol, or wood alcohol, "can be toxic when absorbed through the skin and life-threatening when ingested," the FDA reported.
The import alert enables the agency to apply heightened scrutiny to hand sanitizers imported from Mexico, including potential detainment for additional investigation.
"This marks the first time the FDA has issued a countrywide import alert for any category of drug product," the agency said.
An FDA assessment of alcohol-based hand sanitizer imported from Mexico concluded that 84% of the studied samples were not in compliance with U.S. standards. More than half had toxic ingredients.
Simply looking at the label to check for methanol is not enough. Most violators do not include it on labels, the FDA said.
The FDA said hand sanitizers contaminated with methanol have been blamed for causing blindness, cardiac problems, effects on the central nervous system, hospitalizations and death. Symptoms of exposure can include nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures and coma.
To be sure, using hand sanitizer contaminated with methanol on your hands does not place you at risk of being poisoned. But ingestion does.
"Young children who ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol substitute are most at risk," the FDA said.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FDA warning: Hand sanitizers from Mexico placed on 'import alert'