Why Hand Sanitizers Are Not Always A Good Idea

October 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Health, Skincare


Hand sanitizers are now big business; compounded by the panic over Swine Flu, we are now carrying them on our person and having one in practically every room in the house.

Now, I am not against them per se, but they are a second line of defence after hand washing, not instead of, as they are increasingly being used. Also, the most common alcohol-based hand sanitizers have some unhealthy ingredients with some unpleasant associations like these listed from the most commonly included items:

Ethyl alcohol is a common ingredients and it is what kills the germs.
Anything mixed with it will move through the skin and into the bloodstream as the alcohol improves penetration of other chemicals through the skin and this disrupts the oils in the skin so it dries out. . This is also the quality that makes alcohol dry out the skin.

Did you know that there have been reports of prison inmates getting drunk on hand sanitizers and of children licking hand sanitizers off their hands and getting inebriated? While most of the alcohol in hand sanitizers evaporates within seconds of being rubbed on the hands, some is absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream and that is cause for concern if you use them frequently.

Isopropyl alcohol is another common ingredient and that is a petrochemical that can be absorbed through the skin and through inhalation of vapours. It is toxic to the nervous system and dries the skin out.

Fragrances can contain just about anything and are made from dozens of chemicals, many of them highly toxic. They are of course only present in tiny amounts but the cumulative effect, along with the other ingredient can cause a reaction in anyone with chemical sensitivity. .  Chemical, or fake fragrances have been linked by some to the rise in the cases of asthma in children as they tend to be irritating to the lungs.

In the US, the Government’s Environmental Working Group gives fragrance a toxicity rating of 8, one of the highest available.

Propylene glycol is a petroleum or plant-based chemical that is widely used in everything from antifreeze and processed foods to cosmetics and medicines. Although it is classified by various government regulatory agents as being non-toxic, for some people it can be extremely irritating to the skin, eyes and lungs.   The EWG gives it a rating of 4 to 7.

Should you go alcohol-free?
You would think this was a safer option, given the above, but unfortunately they all seem to contain benzalkonium chloride, which numerous studies have implicated exposure to it as the leading cause of occupational asthma and chronic dermatitis in healthcare workers and cleaners .

The other common alcohol-free hand sanitizer ingredient is triclosan, a petrochemical antibacterial closely related to dioxins, which accumulates in the body and has a long list of serious safety concerns.

What to do?
I don’t want to scare you, using hand sanitizers occasionally will not cause a major problem but they are not a substitute for hand washing.  Keep them for use outside the home and when travelling and you should not have any ill effects if used sensibly, it’s the over use that is the problem and the most common symptom you are likely to notice is irritation of the skin.

Personally, I prefer to use a natural product such as Green People’s Foaming Hand Sanitizer.  It is an organic antibacterial product that contains Manuka, Tea Tree and Larch and is a UK product that I can recommend, I have even used it to clean a graze when I scraped my knee climbing a stile!  If you want more information on it, visit their website at www.greenpeople.co.uk