This was a bit of an interesting article for me to write, because in the past, I was an avid user of hand sanitizer. In fact, you could almost say that I was addicted to it. So much so that I had one of those half-gallon canisters of the stuff sitting on my desk drawers, just in case I happened to need it at any particular moment.
I cut down on my use of hand sanitizer after some friends told me that I might have been going a bit overboard. They didn’t; however, give me any specific reasons. Luckily, after doing some research, I can share with you the exact reasons why overuse of hand sanitizer might not be such a good thing. If you are iffy about using hand sanitizer, or just want to know a little bit more about this mysterious clear-colored panacea, read on.
1. It Adversely Affects Your Skin.
If you are using a traditional alcohol-based hand sanitizer, then it’s likely the skin on your hands is a bit more worn than the rest of your body. This is because alcohol is a skin irritant, which disrupts your natural oil production causing both dry and flaky skin.
Over time, use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause the skin on your hands to age more rapidly than it would naturally, as dry skin is prone to developing wrinkles and other blemishes.
If you do need to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, make sure to use some kind of hand lotion soon afterwords.
2. It Can Lead to the Development of Superbugs.
If your hand sanitizer doesn’t contain alcohol, then it likely contains “triclosan,” which is a powerful antibacterial agent. The problem is overuse of antibiotics like triclosan can lead to the development of superbugs – which are essentially diseases that have developed a resistance to traditional antibiotics
Indeed, one study has shown that prolonged used of germicides like triclosan can lead to outbreaks of tough-to-kill bacteria that are potentially extremely dangerous to society. Just in 2013 alone, the CDC reported that superbugs were responsible for “at least” 23,000 deaths.
Not only that, but another study found that using triclosan might negatively affect your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to more traditional illnesses (like the common cold).
That’s not to say that using a triclosan-based hand sanitizer once or twice a day will necessarily lead to the rise of a superbug. Using it excessively; however, might lead to some complications further down the line.
3. It Contains Unknown and Possibly Dangerous Chemicals.
The main ingredient in hand sanitizer is usually either alcohol or triclosan — both of which are designed to kill germs. Those aren’t; however, the only things present in your hand sanitizer – far from it actually. This is especially true if your hand sanitizer is scented, as synthetic fragrances normally consist of phthalates, which at their worst, can cause abnormalities in hormone production.
You also need to look out for parabens, which are essentially preservatives meant to prolong the shelf-life of your trusty bottle of Purell. What makes these dangerous is how they are absorbed into your skin each time you use your hand sanitizer.
Perhaps worst of all is that the companies who make these products are not required to tell us the exact ingredients used in the scents of their hand sanitizers. Thus, they can be made up of several undisclosed chemicals.
To minimize your risk, stick to the stuff that doesn’t have any added fragrance.
4. It Can Increase Your Skin’s Absorption of BPA.
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a name you should be fairly familiar with by now. Just recently, there was a massive movement to get the chemical out of our plastic products (a transition that is still going on to this day). For those who don’t know, BPA is dangerous because it can do some pretty nasty things to your endocrine system, which in turn can cause numerous hormone disorders, cancer, and a litany of other bodily issues.
So, how does BPA relate to hand sanitizer? Well, one study out of the University of Missouri found that using hand sanitizer right before touching anything containing a high amount of BPA (like thermal receipt paper) can increase the amount of BPA absorbed through your skin by “up to a hundred-fold.”
Perhaps even worse, a thin layer of BPA will remain on your skin even after it has been absorbed. Meaning that, if you first use hand sanitizer, get BPA on your hands, and then eat something, you’re essentially consuming a bit of that dangerous chemical with every bite. That isn’t good, which is why the University of Missouri’s researchers strongly suggest not using hand sanitizer right before touching something that contains BPA.
5. It Isn’t Even That Effective.
So, after reading all of this, you might be telling yourself, “well, at least hand sanitizer kills all the germs on my hands right? That at least makes it worth it.” Well, unfortunately, it’s not as clear cut as you’d think.
While certain hand sanitizers (specifically, those that contain at least 60% alcohol) are great at killing off microbial life, they can also remove naturally produced oils and beneficial bacteria present on your skin, which, ironically, reduces your body’s defenses against disease.
Not only that, but studies have also shown that traditional soap and water is more effective at washing away certain kinds of dangerous bacteria. Therefore, unless you have no access to soap and running water, stick to the standard hand-washing method. If you have no other option, then alcohol-based hand sanitizers with no added fragrance are your best bet — just be sure to have some sort of lotion on hand so that you don’t dry your skin out.
So, you’re convinced that you shouldn’t be using hand sanitizer all of the time, but also want to know if there are other ways to cleanse your hands when you don’t have access to soap and a sink.
Well, there are a few things you can do. One of which is to create a homemade hand sanitizer, which keeps your hands clean without all of the negatives I listed above.
You can also wear thin gloves if you happen to be somewhere with a lot of germs, like an airport or a public bus. Just be sure not to rub your face with your gloves or anything like that.
Lastly, you can try and buy one of the more natural/organic hand sanitizers, though those are rare. What you will want to look at is their ingredient list. Try and find one that doesn’t contain alcohol or triclosan, or any other kind of questionable ingredient. They’ll probably be more expensive, but your health is worth the investment.
What’s your personal verdict on hand sanitizer? Are you going to stop using it for good now? Will you seek alternatives? Or do you remain unconvinced? Whatever your takeaway, I’d like to hear your perspective in the comment section below!
Featured photo credit: Clean hands in the woods/smilla4 via flic.kr