New Zealand should follow the US and look into making over-the-counter hand sanitiser companies prove their safety, says a consumer watchdog.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating the safety and effectiveness of active ingredients used in over-the-counter antiseptic products, including hand sanitisers.
The regulator also wants to know how much of the product is ultimately absorbed into the bloodstream -- especially for children and pregnant women -- and has proposed making it mandatory for hand sanitiser manufacturers to disclose data about how safe their products really are.
"The issues that the FDA has raised are also relevant here given that the same products are being sold in our market," says Consumer NZ researcher Jessica Wilson.
"We've been concerned about the marketing and promotion of these products for some time. They're widely available and some people may be using them on a daily basis. But the evidence doesn't show they're any better than plain old soap and water in getting your hands clean."
Wilson says hand sanitiser may even be causing us harm.
"The widespread use of antibacterial products for essentially trivial uses has the potential to reduce the effectiveness of drugs we rely on when we do get sick."
A study into the effectiveness of hand sanitiser in New Zealand schools by the University of Otago that was published in 2013 found it wasn't effective in reducing sick days.
The research, led by Associate Professor Patricia Priest, found absence rates at schools that installed dispensers in classrooms as part of the survey were similar at those "control" schools which did not.
Consumer NZ says that while hand sanitiser products do have to pass safety tests here currently, their greatly increased usage should be investigated.
"The ingredients are controlled under our cosmetic product standards regulations, but there is a problem given that they're now being much more widely used than they have been in the past. It's the everyday use that the FDA is looking at in its investigation," says Ms Wilson.