Hand Sanitizing –Is It Safe?

A look at hand sanitizers and what it may mean for your health

Photo by Matthieu Joannon on Unsplash

My patient once told me he could easily identify nurses — they have worn-looking hands and tired feet! That was an eye opening moment for me, I realized his statement rang true. My hands were looking a bit worn. Could it be from the excessive use of washing and hand sanitizers? As a healthcare worker I spend many moments per day applying hand sanitizer or washing my hands.

At any given moment your hand harbors anywhere from 10,000 to 10,000,000 microbes awaiting an opportunity to strike. While some are relatively harmless others like Clostridium difficile and Escherichia coli can cause you serious harm.

What it is hand sanitizer

A hand sanitizer is a disinfectant usually in liquid, foam or gel form that is used to kill microbes.

Alcohol-based disinfectants — are the gold standard in the fight against opportunistic infections within and without healthcare organization. The composition of hand sanitizer solutions typically utilizes no less than 70% (v/v) isopropyl or ethyl alcohol. Scientifically proven to kill at least 99.9% microbes.

The CDC recommends a percentage of at least 60% alcohol is an effective and recommended concentration for use in healthcare setting.

While alcohol-based hand sanitizers can effectively reduce the number of microbes on hands, sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs. Soap and water has proven to be more effective in killing and removed microbes and preventing the spread of infections.

Dangers that lurk in your hand sanitizer?

  1. Ethyl alcohol no less than 70% concentration this is the “active” ingredient.
  2. Triclosan — Some short-term animal studies have shown that exposure to high doses of triclosan is associated with a decrease in the levels of some thyroid hormones. Triclosan is an active ingredient used to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It is commonly added antibacterial soaps and body washes, toothpastes, and some cosmetics. Causes hormone imbalance
  3. Water
  4. Phthalates — maintains pliability
  5. Isopropyl alcohol — another active ingredient
  6. Carbomer — creates the gel-like consistency
  7. Propylene glycol — pulls moisture from the air
  8. Tert-butyl alcohol —Tert-butanol is poorly absorbed through skin by inhalation or ingestion. Low toxicity seen at low doses and a sedative or anesthetic effect at high doses.
  9. Aminoethyl propanol — pH stabilizer
  10. Denatonium benzoate — a teratogenic (cancer causing) insecticide with a moderate toxicity to mammals
  11. Fragrance
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

How to use hand sanitizers

The correct way to apply hand sanitizer is to apply it to the palm of one hand (the product label should provide the recommended amount per use). Rub the sanitizer over all surfaces of your hands for 30 seconds including your thumbs until your hands are dry. Rubbing for 30 seconds enhances its efficacy.

If your hands are visibly soiled do not use hand sanitizer, instead wash for 20 seconds with soap and water.

Photo by Mélissa Jeanty on Unsplash

How can it harm us?

  1. Overuse can lead to resistance to antimicrobials.
  2. Sanitizers often reduce the amount of microbes with actually destroying them.
  3. May actually lead to bacterial resistance.
  4. Alcohol is drying to your skin.
  5. My lead to skin allergies.
  6. Can be volatile and therefore highly flammable.
  7. Cause hormone imbalances.
  8. Can be cancer causing.
  9. Skin absorption — measured as increased blood alcohol levels after continuous use for four hours by healthcare workers.
Photo by Collins Lesulie on Unsplash

How we can protect ourselves

As a healthcare worker, I have used a lot of hand sanitizer to date. I naively assumed that our regulatory agencies are monitoring and ensuring that products put out for public consumption are safe for our use. While doing this research I was truly horrified that some the ingredients present in hand sanitizers have the propensity to cause as much harm as COVID-19.

How can we protect ourselves? — by using soap and water to wash our hands whenever possible and reduce the use of hand sanitizers. We must make every effort to then keep the sanitizer-infused hands away from our faces and mucus membranes as well as refrain from eating until such a time as we are able to physically wash our hands.

We should attempt to limit the exposure of our children to these known dangerous and teratogenic chemicals and in so doing perhaps we can reduce our incidences of the many cancers, hormonal imbalances and many diseases present in our world today.

To reduce the spread of microbes we must employ the use of soap and water in lieu of using hand sanitizers if at all possible.

While I appreciate the protection afforded by hand sanitizers when I am unable to wash with soap and water I realize that this is not the best practice for our long term health goals.

References

  1. https:/www.cdc.gov
  2. https://www.fda.gov
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com
  4. https://stm.sciencemag.org
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc

Published by gifted50

I am a lover of God, most things from nature, (not worms or snakes) and photography. I love dancing, music, reading, learning new things. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I am a Registered (Emergency Room) Nurse by profession. The intent behind this blog is to share tips on how we can become healthier and better versions of ourselves as we journey life's road together. I write about my life experiences, health, childhood lessons, my relationship with God and man and heed the promptings of the Holy Spirit. So let us journey alongside each other. "Keep good company, read good books, love good things and cultivate soul and body as faithfully as you can" ~ Louisa May Alcott.

26 thoughts on “Hand Sanitizing –Is It Safe?

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Pene ! This is vitally important, and so true. Soap and water is best, if it is available.

    Our grocery store offers hand sanitizer, but also has installed a sink for hand washing in the store.

    I believe the time has come when ‘hand shaking’, as a social custom, will stop. 🤗🌷

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    1. Thank you for your input. I agree with you that even when the pandemic is gone we will maintain some level of social distancing. A hand washing sink, that’s a great idea. I wish more places did that.
      I was shocked doing the research that something we put on our hands and will possibly ingest food with would have that many chemicals with the potential to make us ill.
      I feel I need to live off the grid to have some control.

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  2. Nothing can take the place of good old soap and water! By the way our kids at school call hand sanitizer ”hanatizer.”😂

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  3. I have started carrying a small bottle of fragrance-free soap. I never use hand sanitizers and have had a problem with some soaps in public places. You can scrub your hands for days, and the chemical smell won’t go away! This stuff just can’t be healthy! Cheryl

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  4. I suppose as a health care worker, it’s hard to avoid them. You’d think there’d be some healthier alternatives by now however.

    As for me, I avoid them like the plague. I’ve known for ages that they create super-bugs out of what they don’t kill and that they’ll dry out your hands like mad. Regularly used soap and water for me.

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  5. I have strongly disliked hand sanitizer for a very long time. I have a strong cringe reaction to most of the “fragrances” {ahem – stinks 😂}, and I also cringe at the feeling of continued dirtiness left on my hands.
    Your article lets me know that this has been a blessing in disguise

    They’ve known about triclosan being a problem for a good 20 years, I believe. I thought that it was the ingredient that encouraged formation of superbugs. Since I heard about that, I don’t even buy antibacterial soap and only use it when that is all that’s available. I buy regular hypoallergenic bar or liquid soaps for handwashing and natural dishwashing liquids like 7th Generation for hand washing dishes.

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    1. You are so correct. I had the ideas for the soaps as a post. It is frustrating and you wonder what the regulatory bodies are regulating.

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      1. I know, puzzling isn’t it?
        Even shampoos have ingredients in them that are not good for us.
        I got a shock oh, I think it was after my son put a slice of pizza in the microwave for too long on a melamine plate. When I looked up the composition of melamine, I found that it was poisonous for humans. And yet they make baby plates out of melamine. The baby/toddler plates say not to microwave them, but they don’t say WHY. There is no warning to explain to a new parent that using this could result in poisoning their little one.

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      2. Is it any wonder so many have cancer by a certain age as we are feeding these deadly chemicals to the brand new lives and basically predisposing them to so much disease.
        In the last 10 yrs I have been wanting to just live off the grid and a natural life, but I have other lives to consider.
        I would love to live on a farm and grow my own food and make my natural things to use.

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      3. And the alcohol absorption via the skin is something else especially when we are constantly due to the pandemic letting the kids use it.

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  6. you know what, even before COVID, I only used sanitizer while in a place I couldn’t access water and soap. I have never trusted the stuff fully. Thought I was just being traditional lol

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