We have become a self-professed, germ-phobic society where many people won’t even shake hands without fear of becoming ill. The implementation of antibacterial handy wipes at grocery store entrances and travel-sized hand sanitizer bottles stockpiled at every checkout stand has provided a sense of security for many weary people. However, is there a downside to this fear?
To begin, let’s review some of the commonalities and differences between waterless hand sanitizers. Hand sanitizers use alcohol as the main ingredient to kill germs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends they contain at least 60% alcohol; hand sanitizers containing less have been proven to be ineffective. Most hand sanitizers contain either ethyl alcohol or isopropanol; synthetic fragrance; propylene glycol and parabens. Hand sanitizers are not cleaning agents so they don’t actually remove dirt from the surface. According to the Food Safety Network at Kansas State University, hand sanitizers are not as effective as hand washing in the removal of viruses, spores, and fungi. Additionally, research from Purdue University reveals that traditional hand sanitizers do not significantly reduce the overall amount of bacteria on the hands, and in some cases, they may even increase it by stripping the skin of the outer layer of oil which normally prevents resident bacteria from coming to the surface. Opt instead for good old-fashioned hand washing using hot water, plain soap, and a bit of elbow grease while singing the tune of Happy Birthday twice. Taught to me by a nurse friend, this technique will assure you have washed long enough. When handwashing is not an option, then be sure to sanitize safely with our recommendations. Below is a list of common hand sanitizer ingredients – including a few culprits to avoid.
- Ethyl alcohol, also called ethanol, is grain alcohol or drinking alcohol. Ethanol is a renewable resource produced from the fermentation of various live cultures of yeasts such as corn and sugar cane. Organic Ethanol (non-GMO) is found in the EO brand of Hand Sanitizers and Wipes. Be sure to avoid any hand sanitizer products that contain methanol, a toxic substance when absorbed through the skin or ingested.
- Isopropyl alcohol, commonly known as rubbing alcohol, is produced via a chemical reaction between a mixture of water and propene. Isopropyl alcohol is cheap to produce, so it is found more abundantly in commercial products.
- Fragrance or Parfum. You want to avoid alcohol-based hand sanitizers that include these words in the ingredients list (such as Purell). These are chemical fragrance compounds that could contain phthalates that are linked to reproductive problems.
- Parabens Used as a preservative, parabens are known to be toxic and can cause skin reactions, affect hormones, and have been found in breast cancer tumors. There are several types of including methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, etc.
- Propylene glycol. A petroleum derivative used to maintain moisture in products, propylene glycol can penetrate the skin to weaken protein and cell structure. It can cause brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities.
- PEG. Some alcohol-based hand sanitizers also contain ingredients such as polyethylene glycol or PEG, which is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane; a suspected carcinogen. Because 1,4-dioxane is produced during manufacturing, the FDA does not require it to be listed as an ingredient on the product label.
- Carbomer. Beware of greenwashing! Many hand sanitizers claim to be natural, yet they use carbomer; a synthetic polymer to thicken. Look for natural hand sanitizers such as Hand Sanz that use wood cellulose and vegetable glycerin instead.
The Thieves blend hand purifier is our personal favorite and is proven to kill germs and bacteria. In fact, The University of Manchester published findings from their extensive research on essential oils versus the hospital superbug MRSA. In every case study, it was found that Thieves’ ingredients 100% destroyed MRSA. The Young Living brand of Thieves hand sanitizer consists of peppermint essential oil, which is used to denature the ethanol versus the synthetic chemicals commonly found in other hand sanitizers. Add to this the plethora of documentation, including research from Weber State University indicating that most viruses, fungi, and bacteria cannot live in the presence of many essential oils. Some of the oils found in the Thieves blend include clove, eucalyptus radiata, cinnamon, rosemary, and lemon. These oils are highly antiviral, antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-infectious, and protect the body against such foreign agents as viruses, flu, colds, sinusitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, sore throats, cuts, and more.
Additional brands we recommend include All Terrain Hand Sanz; a natural and biodegradable hand sanitizer proven to kill 99.9% of germs and bacteria, pneumonia, e. Coli, and MRSA in 15 seconds without harsh chemicals. The EO Hand Sanitizer is a biodegradable, organic, plant-based hand sanitizer that also uses certified organic lavender essential oil. Also, try Cleanwell which contains thyme oil. These are alcohol-free wipes making them perfect for kids!
If you’d rather DIY, our friend and chemist, Alexis Roch of Chemistry Cachet, has a great and healthy DIY hand sanitizer recipe.
NOTE: For a heavy-duty solution, Alexis suggests filling a small squeeze bottle with 70% rubbing alcohol then add in a few drops of aloe vera gel to make the solution more gelatin similar to store-bought recipes without the skin moisturizing properties or scents.
Finally, long-term application of hand sanitizers to the skin can result in whitening and drying of the skin; leaving skin overly dry which is the #1 complaint from hand sanitizer users. Even the Center for Disease Control reports that allergic contact dermatitis and even hives are triggered by the use of hand hygiene products. Remember, hand sanitizers are not are a replacement for soap and water, but healthy versions can be an important adjunct to optimal hygiene. Clean responsibly!