- Consumer Council tests 35 handwash products and finds 13 contain preservatives that can induce an allergy
- Watchdog says labelling information of some products needs to be improved
Hong Kong's consumer watchdog has found that 13 handwash products contain preservatives that may lead to allergic reactions such as itching or skin conditions like dermatitis.
Some products that claimed to "kill" or "destroy" bacteria or germs also failed to perform as promised.
"You have to really look at the label to see what kind of chemicals the products contain," Professor Nora Tam Fung-yee, chairwoman of the Consumer Council's research and testing committee, said on Monday.
The council tested 35 handwash products and found 13, or nearly 40 per cent, contained preservatives that could induce an allergy. They were found with either methylisothiazolinone (MIT) or methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT), or a mixture of both.
The level of MIT in two antibacterial handwashes from Walch exceeded the limit set by the European Union, while the mix of MIT and CMIT in an antibacterial pine-scented Select-brand product exceeded both mainland China and EU requirements.
The council noted that the labelling information of some products needed to be improved, as four types found with those preservatives did not indicate their presence.
Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han reminded people to pay attention to how their body reacts after using such products.
"Consumers should take note of how their skin responds after using handwash … as the allergy level depends on the individual," Wong said.
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The watchdog also found that handwash products might not fulfil the functions they claimed.
Among the eight tested products that claimed to "kill" or "destroy" 99.9 per cent of bacteria or germs, only one from Watsons and another from Walch achieved what they claimed when dealing with pathogens Staphylococcus aureus, frequently found in the upper respiratory tract and on the skin, and E coli, which can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting.
The effective E coli killing rates of two other products were 33 per cent and 31 per cent, while the remaining four were slightly below their claims.
However, of 20 regular handwashes that did not make any antibacterial claims, three were found to have a killing rate of 99.5 per cent or more against the two tested pathogens, while for two others the figure was 85 per cent.
The council believed the comparatively alkaline or acidic nature of those five products was linked to their efficacy, as extremes in pH value were not favourable to the growth of bacteria.
Customs confirmed it had received a referral related to potential health risks posed by handwash products in the market, and conducted a test-buy operation, which found the pH values of three products "slightly exceeded the allowed range", posing skin irritation risks to consumers.
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"Investigation is ongoing. Customs has ordered the related retailers and suppliers to store 583 bottles of handwash products in specified places," it said in a statement.
It is an offence to supply, manufacture or import into Hong Kong consumers goods that do not comply with general safety requirements and carries a maximum penalty of a HK$100,000 fine and a year's imprisonment on first conviction, it added.
Tam, meanwhile, said washing hands properly mattered more than the product used.
"The way hands are washed and the duration are very important. Whether the handwash products claim to be antibacterial or not, as long as the washing method is appropriate, the level of bacteria on the hands can be reduced," she said.
The right way to wash hands includes lathering them with handwash for at least 20 seconds, equivalent to humming the Happy Birthday song twice, then rinsing with clean running water, the council said.
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