7 Reasons Why You Should Avoid Hand Sanitizers

Hand sanitizer. You squirt it, feel the cool tingling sensation, and spread it all over your hands. Then, you feel clean.


It sounds pretty simple as an alternative to washing your hands with soap and water. It's quick, portable, and convenient, especially when you don't have running water nearby. Hand sanitizer or hand antiseptic is a supplement that comes in gel, foam, or liquid solutions.

Hand sanitizer often has a form of alcohol, such as ethyl alcohol, as an active ingredient and works as an antiseptic. Other ingredients could include water, fragrance, and glycerin.

Other non-alcohol based hand sanitizers contain an antibiotic compound called triclosan or triclocarban. This ingredient can also be found in soaps and even toothpaste. These products are often labeled antibacterial, antimicrobial, or antiseptic soaps.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says triclosan could carry unnecessary risks, including some on this list, given that their benefits have yet to be proved.

Recent studies have raised questions about whether triclosan might be hazardous to human health, as studies on the compound are ongoing.

What’s wrong with hand sanitizers?

Though the occasional use of a hand sanitizer isn’t going to hurt you, regular use over time can cause a lot of problems:

1. DRY SKIN

We told you about the dangers of alcohols in skin care in a previous post. The alcohols used in hand sanitizers include isopropyl, ethanol, and n-propanol. These are the drying alcohols we told you about. They irritate the skin, strip away it’s natural oils and acid mantle, dehydrate cells, and increase risk of contact dermatitis.

2. ACCELERATED AGING

All those drying effects can lead to increased appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as calluses, cracks, and flakiness. Over time, alcohols can disrupt the natural barrier function, reducing skin’s ability to protect itself, and leading to increased dehydration.

3. DAMAGED SKIN

Scientific studies have shown that alcohols can actually damage skin cells.

4. ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE

Many hand sanitizers these days are made with triclosan (more about triclosan in this post). This antibacterial has been found in animal studies to disrupt hormone function. It’s also connected to the rise of so-called “superbugs”—bacteria and viruses that can resist antibiotics. The CDC announced in 2013 that the rise of superbugs (as a result of overuse of antibiotics) was a serious threat to human health, and had caused at least 23,000 deaths that year.

5. UNKNOWN CHEMICALS

Many hand sanitizers are made with chemical fragrances. Since manufacturers are not required to list fragrance ingredients on the label, you don’t know what you’re exposing yourself to. Many fragrances are irritating and have been linked to allergies and hormone disruption.

6. WEAKENED IMMUNE SYSTEM

We think we’re reducing our risk of getting sick when we use hand sanitizers, but they can actually weaken the immune system. Studies have shown that ultra-clean environments—particularly early in life—can contribute to reduced immune defenses later on.

7. THEY JUST DON’T WORK AS WELL

The FDA states that currently, there is no evidence that antibacterial soaps (and sanitizers) are any more effective than regular soap and warm water in helping to prevent the spread of germs. A 2000 study found that sanitizers do not significantly reduce the amount of bacteria on the hands, and may actually even increase it. Researchers added that the products strip the skin of its natural oils—and since those oils usually prevent bacteria from coming to the surface, the sanitizer can actually reduce the skin’s own defenses.

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