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When the COVID-19 crisis hit, Tyler Onofrio's cosmetics company went into overdrive

Hand sanitizer production has put OC Hair Bath & Body Co. on the front line of the COVID-19 fight
OC Hair Bath & Body Co. employees have been busy since the local cosmetics company ramped up hand sanitizer production. Photo supplied

To say that OC Hair Bath & Body Co. has been busy during the COVID-19 crisis would be an understatement.

A few months ago, the Sault Ste. Marie-based cosmetic company was asked to retool their machines and start making hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray for healthcare buildings, hospitals, and other businesses.

They are now working 24 hours a day to keep up with the demand and help support communities in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

“With the new provincial mandates that sanitizer and masks will be required once businesses reopen, we have had dispensers designed, and are providing them at cost for any commercial establishment in Sault Ste Marie. We’re now at a bottle capacity of 30,000 bottles, and we’re making that much each day,” said co-owner Tyler Onofrio.

Right now, OC Hair Bath & Body Co. has orders for over 2.5 million bottles pending, and their current costs have exceeded $200,000.

 “We’ve faced many obstacles so far. As a cosmetic manufacturer we typically have access to hundreds of thousands of bottles, but with COVID-19 it has increased plastic demand so much that it exceeded the world's ability to produce enough bottles that were needed for health care. This made it impossible to get enough bottles for our processing line to fill. Our processing line will fill approx. 30,000 bottles in 22 hours, yet with the lack of containers it has been a stop and go process running 800 bottles and then setting it all back up again for a new bottle style,” Onofrio said.

Onofrio says that it’s important to note that the products they are making are medical grade, whereas the products people buy from the grocery store are not.

“Due to the lack of food grade ethanol and isopropyl alcohol, Health Canada allowed a temporary use of technical grade ethanol in the use of hand sanitizer,” he said. “This technical grade ethanol is scary, and has many associated risks with the usage which thankfully we have never even thought of using. Many manufacturers turned to this as they did not have purchasing power on food/ medical grade alcohol, resulting in most of the sanitizer on the market being made with alcohol that is not purified to standard.”

So how do you know if sanitizer is made with technical grade ethanol? Onofrio says that if the product is scented, or has a foul smell, then it is most likely made with technical or industrial grade ethanol.

“OC’s main goal from the start was to provide safe and very effective hand sanitizer to our community when it was not available in stores. Our formula and availability quickly moved across Canada and we have been supplying our ministries, hospitals, acute clinics, and other businesses across Canada with high quality sanitizer made from 99.8% Isopropyl alcohol, not the cheap and very risky technical grade ethanol,” he said.

As a company that also operates a medical supply division and manufactures professional disinfectants designed for health care, OC Hair Bath & Body Co. says that the most effective way to stop a virus is by using soap and water. However, this is not always possible when out and about.

“It's very important for all businesses to have safe sanitizer,” Onofrio said. “As businesses, they need to ensure the product being supplied for the customers is safe for everyone to use and won't create a spin-off of effects with other health risks. It’s very important for us to be using sanitizer after every contact and after entering and leaving facilities to decrease the spread of COVID-19.”