Before delving into the dangers of overusing Hand sanitizer in our daily life. I must commend Hand sanitizer’s exemplary performance in proper hand hygiene in health care industry. It has probably saved multiple disease outbreaks and it rightly belongs in THAT industry.
One day I was getting ready to have lunch at the park with my son when I popped open the hand sanitizer bottle to “clean” his hands before eating. A trivial question crossed my mind; if it was okay to use hand sanitizer before we ate food? I mean it was mostly alcohol (70%).
This led me to look into hand sanitizers, how they work, it’s contents and all the un-fun scientific stuff. I was boggled by the research, and how much harm can it do.
Did you know the commercial hand sanitizers don’t kill most viruses, it kills bacteria. We all know most infections are viral infections, including most common colds. In nature, bacteria keeps a check on the viruses, and when there are enough healthy bacteria they don’t let viruses grow. Hand Sanitizers also rip our hands of good bacteria, thus helping viruses.
Hand sanitizers work my disrupting the cell membranes (outer covering) of bacteria, also of human skin cell membranes. Thus stripping your hands of the natural oils and disrupting the acid mantel, probably the reason why our hands feel so dry after using hand sanitizers.
Our skin has a natural, slightly acidic film on our hands, called acid mantle. It does not let bacteria, viruses, and other potential contaminants to enter our body. When we use hand sanitizer or even wash our hands we disrupt this acidic layer. It makes our skin more penetrable since the outer layer is removed. So our skin starts to absorb whatever substances it comes in contact with after using hand sanitizers.
Like BPA, as found in this study. When people handled receipts after using hand sanitizer the BPA found in their body was significantly higher than when they handled the receipts without using hand sanitizers. Receipts, like grocery, gas, airplane tickets. Yes, it might be a good idea to say NO to the receipt when the grocery store clerk asks you if you want your receipt.
Don’t get me wrong I am not trying to say don’t wash your hands or use hand sanitizers at all. This acidic layer and good bacteria come back on our skin very quickly. I am just saying when we use hand sanitizers it makes our skin more penetrable to certain chemicals.
Being the curious detective mom I am, my thought was if hand sanitizers are increasing the penetration of BPA if must be increasing penetration of other substances as well.
FDA requires proper labeling of hand sanitizers as an Over the Counter Drug since they contain such high amounts of alcohol, including the warning not to be ingested by adults. It is not uncommon for kids including teens and tweens to experiment eating the sanitizers, so it is of utmost importance to keep them away from children and warn older ones against them.
The most common ingredient of the non-alcohol based hand sanitizers is triclosan which has been designated as the contaminant of emerging concern and is undergoing review by FDA. (I honestly can write an entire post about why they are so bad for us). They create a hormonal imbalance in our body, it’s associated with higher risk of food allergies, and it’s deadly to the environment. The worst thing of all, it is absorbed into our body through our skin, found in this study. And it’s very difficult to get rid of triclosan, from our body, and from our environment.
Bacterias develop resistance towards Anti-Bacterial agents like the ones used in Hand Sanitizer, thus making them even harder to be killed, and making you an easy target of these resistant bacterias.
This does not happen in alcohol-based hand sanitizers since it kills bacteria physically. However, a lot of alcohol based ones on the market add anti-bacterial agents to the hand sanitizers, since it’s more popular.
Fragranced hand sanitizers are quite likely loaded with chemicals, often phthalates which are endocrine (hormone secreting organ) disrupts and are known to alter genital development. And these chemicals are absorbed by our body when the outer membrane is disrupted.
I understand it’s a tough choice to make. On one hand, sanitizers are destroying so many bacteria, on the other hand, hand sanitizer itself has so many issues.
It’s truly a very delicate balance.
Our body is naturally prepared to fight the bacteria and viruses commonly present in the environment. Our children’ exposure to day to day bacteria is like a training ground for their immune system, it develops their immunity.
I personally still use hand sanitizer and have it easily accessible in my diaper bag. However, I am very cautious in deciding when do I really need to use it, and when can I get by without using it. Especially for my toddler.
Like just the past week, I used a hand sanitizer after feeding the giraffe at the zoo. But, at lunch time after a play in the park, we just wipe off our hands with a baby wipe, or squirt a little water from the water bottle and wash his hands.
One thing is for sure, I am not going to get hand sanitizers marked, “anti-bacterial” or fragranced.
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