Dr. Mersad Alimoradi 06 Dec 2020

If you’re one of those people who clean their hands with sanitizer every 2 minutes, then you might be surprised to know that hand sanitizers are not always the best way to go when it comes to protecting yourself against COVID-19 or any other infections. Infact overuse can potentially be harmful to your body and it should be limited.

Although hand sanitizers are an attractive and effective alternative to soap and water, most health authorities still recommend the latter as the ideal (and safest) way of cleaning your hands.

What are the risks of using hand sanitizer?

1. Hand sanitizers can cause a variety of skin conditions

If you’re an avid user of hand rub, you’ve probably noticed that the skin on your hands is now worn out, and not as healthy as it used to be. Hand sanitizers contain several ingredients that can cause skin irritation and even eczema. The active-ingredient in approved hand gels is usually ethyl or isopropyl alcohol, however, this is not the only ingredient in these products. Many brands introduce a fragrance and other ingredients to give the gel its texture, feel, and smell. Alcohol is usually responsible for skin dryness and, along with the other ingredients, it can damage the skin on your hands. Itchy skin, cracks, redness, dryness, and blisters that may become painful are all signs of eczema (also called dermatitis) and skin irritation.

If you can’t avoid using hand sanitizers regularly but you’re concerned with how dry your skin is becoming, using moisturizers after rubbing your hands with sanitizer might benefit you.

2. Certain hand rubs can cause antibiotic resistance

Some brands of hand sanitizers contain “triclosan”, a type of antibiotic. This chemical can cause several problems, most importantly, antibiotic resistance. Researchers have found that overusing hand gel that contains triclosan can contribute to the development of “superbugs”. Superbugs are strains of bacteria that are very harmful and very difficult to treat. Infections with resistant bacteria cannot be treated with traditional antibiotics, and these can lead to severe outcomes and possibly death.

Of course, using a hand gel containing triclosan once or twice daily might be okay, however, the problem lies with overuse.

3. Some hand sanitizers can disturb your immunity

Triclosan can also alter your immunity. Researchers have concluded that using triclosan-containing products can lower your immunity and make you more vulnerable to allergies and infections (like the flu, common cold, and others).

4. Some hand gels can cause hormonal disturbances and infertility

Products containing triclosan, phthalates, or parabens might interfere with the normal function of the endocrine system. Phthalates and parabens are both ingredients that might be found in your hand sanitizer. Phthalates go into the production of certain fragrances, while parabens are preservatives that increase the shelf life of your hand gel. When these chemicals are absorbed through your skin, they might cause hormonal abnormalities. These can lead to abnormal development, infertility, and altered pregnancy outcomes.

5. Increases the absorption of BPA through your skin

Bisphenol A (or BPA) is a chemical that’s been used for decades in making many plastic products, however, we’ve just recently become aware of how harmful it can be. Exposure to BPA has been linked to endocrine dysfunction, cancer, and several other health conditions. Using hand sanitizer increases your skin’s ability to absorb BPA. This means that if you rub hand gel on your hands and touch a plastic bottle containing BPA, you would absorb more of the harmful chemical.

Which hand sanitizers should you avoid, and which should you use?

Here are the types of hand sanitizers that you should avoid:

  • Scented products: adding fragrance to hand gels to mask the unattractive smell of alcohol means adding chemicals that might be harmful to the body. Phthalates are just one group of chemicals contained in fragrances that we know of. Other unknown chemicals might be equally or even more damaging.
  • Hand gels containing triclosan: As we’ve already mentioned, studies have found that triclosan contributes to antibiotic resistance, causes immune problems, and disturbs normal hormonal physiology.
  • Products containing parabens: This applies to all skin products and not just hand sanitizers. Parabens can reduce immunity and cause hormonal disturbances.
  • Unknown brands: Unknown brands might not be your wisest options. An unknown brand may sometimes be not well tested and not a lot is known about it.

And here are the types of hand sanitizers that you should use (if you have to):

  • Hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol: This is the alcohol recommended by the CDC in order for a hand gel to be effective at killing harmful germs (including COVID-19).
  • Brands with a good reputation: Well-known brands are usually better at sticking to regulations and providing high-quality and safe products. This does not mean, however, that every hand sanitizer from a reputable producer is safe to use. You should always read the label to know what you are buying, and only use hand gel when you have to (see below).
  • Products that are without fragrance and don’t contain any of the harmful chemicals listed above

When should you not use hand sanitizer?

  • When soap and water are available: According to the WHO and most health authorities, washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to clean your hands and reduce disease transmission. This applies to COVID-19 as well as to most other infections.
  • When you’ve just used it a second ago: Don’t obsess about sanitizing your hands. Germs will not magically appear on your hands if you’re not actively using them in public places. Use hand gel when you’ve been touching items used by other people, and only when soap and water are not around.
  • When your hands are clearly dirty: Hand sanitizer will not remove dirt off your hands and it would be less effective in killing viruses and bacteria if your hands are clearly dirty. Soap and water are much better for hand hygiene.

Hand sanitizers are very practical. It’s a good It’s okay to use hand sanitizers occasionally when in public, however, overusing these gels can be harmful. When soap and water are available, they’re always the superior choice in terms of safety and effectiveness in killing germs.

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About the Author:
Dr. Mersad is a medical doctor, author, and editor based in Germany. He's managed to publish several research papers early in his career. He is passionate about spreading medical knowledge. Thus, he spends a big portion of his time writing educational articles for everyone to learn.



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