August 23rd, 2010

How Safe Is Your Hand Sanitizer?

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Photo used under Creative Commons from Brandi Sims

Since the outbreak of H1N1 automatic hand sanitizer dispensers are everywhere. These waterless cleansers are provided as a “courtesy” at check out counters of local pharmacies and grocery stores, in public restrooms, doctor’s offices and restaurants. Most of us walk around armed with our own personal supply of hand sanitizer, ready to ward off the next flu pandemic.

Your Best Option is Still Soap and Water

Using old fashioned soap and water kills bacteria and removes dirt from our hands. Soap and water reduces the possibility that the germs will travel into our bodies and cause an infection.

While there is no replacement for soap and water, there are times when this option is not available. A waterless cleanser can be a nice alternative to have around. In comes Purell, or another similar brand, to kill the bacteria and supposedly keep us clean and healthy. Purell uses ethyl alcohol as its main active ingredient, which can cause a load of potential hazards.

Are these waterless, alcohol based, hand sanitizers truly our best option?

Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizer

Most hand sanitizers contain isopropanol, ethanol, or n-propanol-all forms of alcohol- as the active ingredient. Waterless cleansers can be convenient, but are designed to kill bacteria — not to remove dust and dirt, which is often how chemicals migrate. With hand sanitizers the dirt is not removed from your skin, but left to absorb.

Dangers of alcohol based hand sanitizer

  • Ingestion of Alcohol-many hand sanitizers have fairly high alcohol content. This has many worried about the potential for misuse as an intoxicant. Two ounces of Purell is equivalent to four shots of vodka – it has 62% alcohol in it. There have been incidents reported where children have ingested toxic levels of hand sanitizer. The New England Journal of Medicine published information on the dangers of drinking hand sanitizers after a prison inmate became intoxicated from drinking Purell.
  • Addiction-like any other drug, continued ingestion of the alcohol can lead to alcohol dependence.
  • Flammable-alcohol based hand sanitizer is highly flammable and should be kept away from heat and open flames.
  • Toxic Ingredients-Purell contains several potentially toxic ingredients, in addition to ethyl alcohol, including fragrance and tocopheryl acetate that rate high on the Skin Deep hazard scale. Ingredients in this product have been linked to cancer, reproductive issues, allergies and skin irritations.
  • Drying of the Skin-continuous exposure to alcohol based sanitizer can cause whitening and drying of the skin, commonly resulting in contact dermatitis or an allergic reaction.

Non-Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizers are a Better Alternative

When looking for safe hand sanitizer options Cosmetics Safety Database is a good place to start to check on the safety of any product.

Two Safe Options

  1. My hand sanitizer of choice is made by Cleanwell Natural Hand Sanitizer. Their products do not contain any harsh chemicals or alcohol. The hand sanitizer smells like thyme, which is one of its main ingredients. In addition to its culinary uses, thyme has powerful natural antiseptic properties that have been used for centuries.
  2. StaSAFE all natural hand sanitizer is another safe option suggested by Cool Mom Picks. StaSAFE hand sanitizer is non-flammable, moisturizing, alcohol free and non-toxic.

A MESSAGE TO ALL HAND SANITIZER COMPANIES-

Simple fix-how about placing a child safety cap on alcohol based hand sanitizer bottles so small children can’t open the bottle without the help of an adult. The risk of children ingesting the sanitizer would be greatly reduced.

Disclosure: If you decide to order Cleanwell hand sanitizer I will receive a few pennies through Amazon-thanks!

Sources:

Doyon, S. The New England Journal of Medicine, Feb. 1, 2007; vol 356: pp 529-530. Emadi, A. The New England Journal of Medicine, Feb. 1, 2007; vol 356: pp 530-531
Healthy Child Healthy World

 

13 Responses to “How Safe Is Your Hand Sanitizer?”

  1. Lori,

    Your articles are always so informative! I wouldn’t touch regular hand-sanitizer with a ten-foot pole! Thanks for pointing out its less than idea contents.

  2. Thanks so much Sandra. I feel the same way about alcohol based hand sanitizer-I try to avoid it at all costs. Hoping to spread the word on the hazards so more people make the switch to a natural alternative.

  3. I do not use any gel alcohol sanitizers. I have a 2 yr old who can pretty much climb up on anything. 3 pumps of that and my son would be as drunk as I was on my 21st birthday! But when we’re on the go and need to clean our hands but have no access to soap and water, what do we do? I just found an all natural alternative. Its a 100% All Natural hand sanitzer that is children safe! I will post the link below for any other concerned parents who understand my problem.

    https://wallysnatural.com/new/wallys-all-natural-hand-sanitizer.html

  4. Thank you for sharing this information Liz.

  5. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers seem like they are not worth the risks, especially since they are not your best line of defense against germs and bacteria. I do, however, believe that alcohol-free hand sanitizers are worth the investment as they are safe for people to use and do not carry the dangers of sanitizers with alcohol.

  6. Thanks for this info! I’ve been looking for a natural, safe hand sanitizer. StaSAFE doesn’t list their ingredients online – that’s a little strange. Usually natural, non-toxic companies are thrilled to list their ingredients where they can easily be seen. I’ve emailed for their ingredient list.

    I think Poofy makes one that is really great and natural.

    Thanks again.
    Jennifer

  7. Hi Jennifer, let me know if they get back to you. I’m curious to hear what their ingredients are. I’m a fan of Poofy Organics-although I’ve never tried their hand sanitizer.

  8. […] Wash your hands frequently. Using old fashioned soap and water kills bacteria and removes dirt from our hands. Soap and water reduces the possibility that the germs will travel into our bodies and cause an infection.  As a last resort use a hand sanitizer without alcohol. […]

  9. […] many consumer products as an antibacterial or antifungal agent. It’s best known for showing up in hand sanitizer. For years triclosan has been linked to impaired thyroid function and liver toxicity. And a recent […]

  10. I used the Victoria’s secret sanitizer and I hope that is a good hand sanitizer.

  11. […] or other children I  have no problem deviating from the list.  For example I always send in a safe alternative to alcohol based hand sanitizer. I generally don’t write a letter to the teacher explaining my position, but if you’re […]

  12. […] to the school supplies you send into school. Make sure you opt for the non-toxic version of wipes, hand sanitizers and other […]

  13. […] great. Their products don’t contain any harsh chemicals or alcohol. The hand sanitizer smells like thyme, which is one of its main ingredients. In addition to its culinary uses, thyme has powerful natural […]

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About Lori

I’m Lori Popkewitz Alper, a recovering attorney, writer, mom of three boys and the Founder of Groovy Green Livin. Join me as we work together to make the world a safer place for all.

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