Since everyone seems to be sharing DIY hand sanitizer recipes on social media, I need to throw in some facts on the subject from the perspective of a cosmetic formulator and aromatherapist.
First, in the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all antimicrobial sanitizers as over-the-counter drugs (OTC). Any and all topical products making anti-microbial claims are OTC drugs, so please don’t run out and start selling or buying any homemade DIY hand sanitizers.
Second, the FDA also regulates what claims can be made on OTC hand saniziters, in fact, Purell just got a strong warning letter from the FDA for breaking those rules. On their product pages for PURELL® Healthcare Advanced Hand Sanitizer they claimed: “Kills more than 99.99% of most common germs that may cause illness in a healthcare setting, including MRSA & VRE” and even more unsubstantiated claims that converted their OTC product into an unapproved new drug. So believe me when I tell you that any hand sanitizer you make in your kitchen cannot be sold or labeled to prevent the Corona (COVID-19) virus…for reals.
Third, the formulas aren’t even accurate. DIYers beware, many of the DIY Recipes I have seen do not even contain the right amount of alcohol, let alone warn you that these are OTC products. Hand sanitizers on the market, that use alcohol as the active ingredient, contain 60-95% alcohol by volume. That means that if you dilute 70% isopropyl alcohol with Aloe Vera gel (or other product) you are most likely taking the percentage of your finished DIY product far below any effective level.
Be aware that rubbing alcohol, a.k.a. isopropyl alcohol, and the alcohol that you drink are very different. The alcohol that you drink is ethyl alcohol (C2H5OH) and rubbing alcohol is isopropyl alcohol (C3H8O). Another alcohol that you may see on the market is denatured alcohol. It has been denatured. It is often ethanol alcohol that has had a poison, typically methanol, added to deter people from drinking it. The Poison Control website warns that isopropyl alcohol is poisonous in small amounts to children and also poisonous for adults. Please, if you are stockpiling, be extra cautious that children do not have access to isopropyl alcohol.
Let’s look at some common alcohol based products by the numbers.
Witch Hazel USP is 14% alcohol.
Vodka is 40-95% alcohol
190 proof Everclear is 95% alcohol
When you look at alcohol you can find the percentage of alcohol in consumable liquor by checking the proof on the label. A label that reads 50% alcohol by volume is 100-proof.
Why is this important? Because you need to know how much alcohol is in a finished product, but even more importantly water and essential oils do not mix. This is just a fact of nature. So many DIY hand santizers recipes are recommending the use of essential oils. There are so many things wrong with these recipes. One, dangerous levels of essential oils are being recommended, and two, the essential oils are not being dispersed or emulsified into the finished product. Essential oils left improperly diluted and/or dispersed increase your risk of injury or sensitization. For more on the importance of essential oils safety check out The Unspoken Truth About Essential Oils or my blog post Top Twelve Essential Oil Safety Rules.
Please watch this video by Petrichor Apothecary LLC-Shannon Becker, PhD, Registered Aromatherapist that clearly shows how essential oils do not mix with water, low-proof alcohols, witch hazel, or white vinegar.
So let’s talk about using essential oils to prevent or cure Coronavirus (COVID-19). Here is the most important fact to keep in mind: absolutely no essential oils have been clinically proven to destroy the Coronavirus (COVID-19). I’ve been a certified aromatherapist for over 21 years and I simply have to be honest with you, whether any salesperson or someone else in the field tells you differently.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that you “Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.” CDC Coronavirus (COVID-19) Prevention & Treatment.
If you want to make something DIY for your own personal use please follow the guidelines put out by the World Health Organization’s Guide to Local Production of WHO-recommended Handrub Formulations. Stop watching the YouTube videos and/or following the DIY advice of anyone using their platform to tell you how to make homemade hand sanitizer. Just the fact that they are telling you that you can make a DIY hand santizer is a dead giveaway that they don’t know the first thing about hand sanitizers.
For those giving unsound formulation advice and/or selling unproven DIY hand santizers please be aware that the liability involved if you sell a product or make claims that your recipe is supposed to mitigate a disease, let alone Coronavirus (COVID-19), is unfathomable. Let’s keep safety and formulation basics in the mix before you jump into the DIY hand sanitizer craze.
UPDATE: FDA Update Regarding Hand Sanitizer Regulations
Here are a few handy links that may also help in your quest to protect your family from disease and keep you up to date.
New Jersey 7-Eleven owner arrested after homemade sanitizer burns 4 children
FDA and FTC crack down on coronavirus ‘fraudulent prevention and treatment claims’
Show Me the Science: Hand Sanitizers
Handwashing and Hand Sanitizer Use
The World Health Organization Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public
FDA Topical Antiseptic Products: Hand Sanitizers and Antibacterial Soaps
Why Is 70% Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) a Better Disinfectant than 99% Isopropanol, and What Is IPA Used For?
Warning about products claiming to treat or prevent the novel coronavirus
So EO dose not mix with water and oils in liquid soap?
Dose EO mix in lotions and creams and benefits the skin! Thanks
Surfactants allow essential oils to emulsify into hand soap. They change the surface tension of the product. There are limits on how much you can add to liquid soap but in general 1% can blend into a finished hand soap. Essential oils do mix into lotions and creams because of the oil content.
Melissa Hernandez says
Can’t someone very well make their own hand sanitizer if they use alcohol that’s is 70%+ proof ?
I am going to stay clear of giving formulation advice other than to suggest the World Health Organizations Guide. https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/Guide_to_Local_Production.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2x_KEGE8g0P1Y76irrzsQpw-sAvDNYCCoVJM2eWbyMj0hGfXhYWsacjCA
“70 proof” alcohol, if you’re talking about booze, is 35% alcohol. The “proof” number is twice the actual alcohol content. I’ve read why many times but I couldn’t explain it to you, I just know that’s the formula!
Ethanol (booze) is very different from isopropyl alcohol (“rubbing alcohol”), and they’re not exchangeable.
Agreed. I think I covered that in the post, but let me know if I didn’t.
You did, but the question I was replying to in the comments indicated they didn’t catch that.
Ok great! On the backend I missed that.
Linda Anne Kahn says
Fantastic article! Thank you so much. Kayla
Thanks for the positive feedback.
If purchasing sanitizer in bulk from an FDA approved facility with all the FDA registration numbers and batch numbers , etc…and just refilling and reselling ..is that legal?
This is a great question. My first thought is no, but I asked some other experts as well. A resounding no seems to be the response from those with labeling and OTC backgrounds. The NDC requirements on an OTC would be out of compliance once it is repackaged.
“The NDC, or National Drug Code, is a unique 10-digit or 11-digit, 3-segment number, and a universal product identifier for human drugs in the United States. The 3 segments of the NDC identify: the labeler, the product, the commercial package size.”
Two of the three requirements would be changed if you repackaged bulk material.
Diana Thompson says
Have you been able to view that website recently? I have not been able to get it to load.
Thanks for your comments on this.
Yes. Maybe there was too much traffic to the page at the time. I have it open now.
E. Mathews says
Thank you. I appriciate you, and wish there were more stringent guidelines about essential oil use. So thank you, for speaking up, for educating, and for doing what you jave been trained to do.
Thank you for your support.
Would using 91% isopropyl alcohol to disinfect surfaces be effective?
I just added this link into the blog post that talks about isopropyl alcohol for cleaning. https://blog.gotopac.com/2017/05/15/why-is-70-isopropyl-alcohol-ipa-a-better-disinfectant-than-99-isopropanol-and-what-is-ipa-used-for/?fbclid=IwAR2rhs353uF9ZOUyZs5bxAUwSVVp6WolYJQXlAQq6r72hsxpsEPm8asdkUo
Chrystal Barker says
would a little separation from oil and water render a product unable to kill germs and viruses? It’s not ideal and kindof pointless but if it sells out (entirely) across the nation (or world) will that floating at the top be worth not using it? Seriously!
This is a good question. First if you are counting on the essential oils to kill germs there have been no studies showing any essential oils that kill coronavirus. You would be better off with a product that is the correct formulation without essential oils than one with separated essential oils. There are several reasons why undiluted essential oils are dangerous. Some are phototoxic. Undiluted use can cause sensitization. There have been some serious injuries caused by undiluted essential oils. I will add some links at the of a few cases I’ve shared.
If you’ve already made something and it has free floating essential oils I would suggest using it on surfaces and not skin. Or adding some carrier oil to dilute the free floating essential oils. It really is that serious that people be aware of the dangerous of undiluted essential oils.
Check these out:
Kim’s Adverse Reaction Story
Robyn’s Adverse Reaction
From each of these stories you can find links to more cases.
Chrystal Barker says
The alcohol kills germs not EO. I actually have a lecture on phototoxicity of EO so I agree that is a great point. EO is not necessary, imo. The stores are selling out of these items so honestly I’m thinking it would be more helpful to explain ways to make it vs. focusing on selling and on potential shortcomings of DIY sanitizers. At this point it may be many peoples best option. I hope everyone stays safe and listens to the CDC / WHO… but when you have no better option it may not be a bad idea to make what you don’t have.
I did not want to jump on the DIY craze so instead I shared the World Health Organization’s Guide to Local Production of WHO-recommended Handrub Formulations. This gives people advice from experts on health.
Grammyprepper aka Lee says
THANK YOU for this post, Kayla!
Thanks for your support and encouragement.
I so appreciate all of the information that you’ve shared! I recently looked into selling homemade products made with essential oils and wanted to add that in my research I also found out that it is illegal to sell products made with any type of “drinking” alcohol. I believe this may require a liquor license but I didn’t research enough to know all of the specifics.
It is also super expensive to attempt to go that route. All alcohol that isn’t denatured have a hefty tax on them. You do need a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on the federal level and whatever local laws require.
So what can I use my EO’s for if I can’t use them to make cleaning products or lotions? Is there anything wrong with mixing lemon EO with vinegar to clean instead of buying over the counter cleaners that cause cancer and allergies?
You can use essential oils in lotions and soap and countless personal care products. You just have to make sure that they are emulsified or diluted thoroughly into the product. You can also use them to diffuse into the air.
Leia Ambra says
I just read a research article how tea tree essential oil was more effective against many viruses then many drugs.
It has not been proven against coronavirus. Every virus is different. Also the extensive study Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties found, “Despite some progress, there is still a lack of clinical evidence demonstrating efficacy against bacterial, fungal, or viral infections.” As an aromatherapist I’d love to say an essential oil is the answer, but it is dangerous to rely on something completely untested against coronavirus.
Robin A Holstein says
One thing the WHO pdf does say is Glycerol: used as humectant, but other emollients may be used, for skin care, provided that they are cheap, widely available
and miscible in water and alcohol and do not add to toxicity,or promote allergy.
So, steering away from any essential oil discussion, and using the recipe provided in the WHO pdf, you can mix isoprophyl alcohol, aloe gel (humectant sub for glycerol), hydrogen peroxide, and distilled water to make your own, safely.
FINALLY!! some common sense from someone!!!
Maggie Ghanem says
Fantastic Article! Well Written and Well said!
Would it be safe to say that essential oils are better for strengthening the immune system as a form of prevention rather than a form of treatment?
Jamie Fauss says
I make creams, lotions, and deodorant out of Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Shea Butter, Beeswax, Diatomaceous Earth, Bentonite Clay, Baking Soda, essential oils etc. I don’t have any problem with separation or emulsification. Please do your own research on Olive Leaf, Elderberry, Mediterranian Oregano oil, etc. for building up your immune system. You can make your own tinctures. Oregano has been found to be very useful against MRSA. According to the Head Building Inspector in Austrailia, Clove Oil is far superior for mold eradication than Bleach.. He said Bleach bleaches it, Clove Oil kills it. There is so much to learn about nature’s healing properties. Look up literature having to do with amazing stories of people not catching the Bubonic Plague because of the usage of strong herbal vinegars.( Story regarding ‘Thieves”…)Trader Joes (and many other stores carry a special raw honey called ‘Manuka” that is really good for immune system and also cuts, boils, etc. Don’t stop researching..you will fall in love with herbal solutions. Big Pharma beware…stop your poison!
Cynthia J Aiken says
A little bit SMUG, aren’t you????
I just see it as sharing science and the laws of the land, but you can take it smug if that is how you see it.
Lori Nova Endres says
Awesome post Kayla – thank you so much! I’m getting a lot of email from students who want to all of the sudden make Hand Sanitizers. I will stop giving long explanations as to why I don’t think it’s a good idea & instead just link your post. Great job breaking things down, as usual. You’re a rock star!
Floppiest of the dnky ballz says
Sipping on that Kool aid pretty hard I would say. Couldn’t even get past 3 paragraphs knowing what kind of “advice” to expect. The partial truths scattered about obvious steering into a certain narrative or belief. Lol love how your afraid to take a stand against the fda who don’t give a shit about our health. You see what they let through for us to consume everyday and you going to tip toe around that level of insane type of regulators. Fda are pure evil who allow the misinformed sheep to be poisonee daily. Can’t imagine you don’t know this, and yet it’s the people who can’t even stand up against that level of tyranny and bend the knee. Truly sad sad times. If people ain’t selling then they take the other route and just relinquish all personal rights by doing nothing. But hey at least you made a sub par, clickbaitish not even thst informative or helpful article. So there is always that to be super proud about. Better get some knee pads. Ba ba ba bunnnnnnnnnnn