By now, we’ve all heard stories of bottles of hand sanitizer flying off store shelves as worries about Coronavirus escalate in the U.S.
In fact, the New York Times is reporting that as of a week ago, sales of sanitizer were already 73 percent higher than the same time last year.
And, it’s no wonder with the CDC stressing that hand sanitizer works, as long as it has a high alcohol content.
Yet, while hand sanitizer is a great solution for keeping your hands (hopefully) germ-free on the go, it does come with dangers you should be aware of in order to make the best choice for keeping you and your family well this season.
It used to be that when you talked about hand sanitizer and whether or not they were safe to use, your main worry had to be triclosan – a chemical used for its power to kill bacteria.
However, once it was linked far too many times to gut problems and to antibiotic resistance, the FDA finally ruled that companies could no longer use it in the sanitizers we slather onto our hands.
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Unfortunately, triclosan wasn’t the only reason hand sanitizers could become a problem.
You see, as we said before, the CDC says that if you’re going to use hand sanitizer, you need to go with one that is high in alcohol (at least 60 percent).
Here’s the problem with that…
Skin damage, infection, and killing off beneficial bacteria
When you use anything on your skin too often, it can lead to irritation and cause your skin to break down.
But, when you add a high level of alcohol to that equation, the problems can become even worse – leaving your skin dry, cracked, and open to a host of germs that can make their way inside your body and cause infection.
Wasn’t this exactly what you were using hand sanitizer to try to avoid?
To top it off, alcohol doesn’t just kill bad bacteria and viruses. It can also kill the good bacteria that inhabit your skin and work to protect you.
As Dr. Trevan Fischer, surgical oncologist and assistant professor of surgical oncology at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, puts it, “If you’re beating down a natural defense the body has, you could be causing some chronic risk over time.”
And, there’s still more…
Studies have found that applying alcohol to your skin can reduce its barrier function, making the membrane more permeable and allowing harmful chemicals (such as the nitrosamines found in cosmetics) to slip in.
So, with all of those negatives, should you skip the hand sanitizer?
The official CDC guidelines instead say to go for good old fashioned soap and water whenever possible, but when you just can’t wash your hands (like when you’re nowhere near a sink or running water), using hand sanitizer is still the right choice.
The key is that if you can get to water and soap, it’s hands-down the best choice (pun intended).
When washing, just be sure to take the advice of the FDA and Harvard doctors and soap all surfaces of your hands, from the inside of your fingers to around your nail beds, and up to your wrists. Also, make sure you wash for a full 20 seconds.
I tell my kids that an easy way to know you’ve washed long enough is to sing the “Happy Birthday” song all the way through, three times.
So, wash when you can, use hand sanitizer when you can’t, and stay safe out there.
- Show Me the Science – When & How to Use Hand Sanitizer in Community Settings — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Hand sanitizer sold out? Here’s how to make your own — LiveScience
- Are antibacterial products with triclosan fueling bacterial resistance? — Harvard Health Publishing
- Does Hand Sanitizer Work? It Can Be Harmful to Your Health — Best Life