FDA Notice

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced recalls of several hand sanitizers due to the potential presence of methanol.

Methanol is a toxic alcohol that can have adverse effects, such as nausea, vomiting, or headache, when a significant amount is used on the skin. More serious effects, such as blindness, seizures, or damage to the nervous system, can occur if methanol is ingested. Drinking hand sanitizer containing methanol, either accidentally or purposely, can be fatal. See here for more information on how to spot safe hand sanitizers.

If you purchased any hand sanitizer containing methanol, you should stop using it immediately. Return it to the store where you purchased it, if possible. If you experienced any adverse effects from using it, you should call your healthcare provider. If your symptoms are life threatening, call emergency medical services immediately.

Spermicides are a type of contraceptive designed to kill sperm or stop it from moving. These products can be safely inserted into the vagina before sex.

Some common household products, such as hand sanitizer, can be harmful to sperm, but that does not mean they can or should be used as a contraceptive.

Let’s discuss if hand sanitizer can kill sperm, which other products may also kill sperm, and how to safely use conventional spermicides.

Sperm cells travel in a viscous fluid called semen, which contains many nutrients that help keep the sperm healthy. Semen also helps to protect the sperm from the acidic environment of the vagina. Despite the crucial role of sperm cells in reproduction, they are fragile in the wrong type of environment.

Spermicide lowers the chance of pregnancy by reducing the effectiveness of sperm. Conventional spermicides are inserted into the vagina before sex. They can act as a barrier to prevent sperm from entering the cervix. Spermicides also contain chemicals that reduce the movement of sperm.

Many types of chemicals can kill sperm. For example, hand sanitizer contains ingredients such as isopropyl alcohol, glycerin, and other harsh compounds. In a similar way that hand sanitizer kills germs, it kills sperm as well. Hand sanitizer may reduce the movement of the sperm cells or kill them on contact.

One of the first ingredients in many hand sanitizers is isopropyl alcohol. Unlike conventional spermicides applied directly inside of the vagina, isopropyl alcohol is not safe for internal use.

Therefore, hand sanitizer should only be used on the hands for the purpose of killing bacteria and should never be applied to a penis or a vagina.

If you have a vagina, you should never use common household chemicals in or around your vagina. The vulva and vagina are very sensitive areas and harsh chemicals may cause burning and irritation.

If you have a penis, the skin of your penis is also sensitive and just as easily damaged. Never use household chemicals, such as hand sanitizer, as a topical alternative to conventional spermicide.

These chemicals should only be used as directed and should never be used internally or as spermicides:

  • vinegar
  • hand soap
  • body wash
  • bleach and disinfectants

According to Planned Parenthood, spermicide is most effective when used with another form of birth control.

To use spermicide effectively:

  • Insert the spermicide formula deep into the vagina according to the directions on the package.
  • You may need to insert the formula 10 to 15 minutes before sexual intercourse for it to be effective. Check the directions on the package.
  • Have sexual intercourse within 1 hour of inserting the spermicide. Otherwise, it may lose effectiveness.
  • Consider also using a condom to maximize the effectiveness of the spermicide.

Be aware that spermicide does not prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It’s important to use additional barrier methods, such as condoms, to protect against STIs.

Frequent use of spermicides may also increase vaginal irritation. This may increase the risk of contracting STIs.

Speak with a healthcare provider about how to use spermicide safely and the most effective birth control methods for you.

Hand sanitizer is a common household chemical that’s harmful to sperm, but it’s not safe for use as a spermicide. Only use hand sanitizer on the hands, and never apply it to a penis or vagina.

Conventional spermicide can be an effective form of contraception when used properly. Reach out to your OB-GYN or local Planned Parenthood if you have questions on the many safe options for pregnancy prevention.