Hand sanitizers can remove germs from your hands when you use these products as they are intended to be used. The question is, are they as safe and effective as people think they are?
Dangers Associated with Hand Sanitizer Use
For all the good that hand sanitizers can do, some medical professionals have expressed concerns about some of their ingredients, as well as how these products are used. It's important to understand the dangers they are trying to bring to light.
Risk for Alcohol Poisoning
Hand sanitizer poses a potential risk for alcohol poisoning, particularly for young children who are attracted to the fun scents and bright colors of many sanitizers. According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a two-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer contains 62 percent ethyl alcohol, or the equivalent of four shots of vodka. At that concentration, even a small dose can be dangerous if ingested, leading to dizziness, slurred speech, headaches, and even brain damage or death in extreme cases.
Take these steps to reduce the risk of alcohol poisoning:
- Avoid using instant sanitizers whenever possible, and opt for regular hand washing instead.
- Use only a dime-sized amount of sanitizer; too much liquid may not evaporate quickly and could be licked off fingers or palms.
- Supervise children while using sanitizers to ensure they rub their hands until completely dry, and store the sanitizer out of their reach.
Concerns About Triclosan
Triclosan, an antibacterial agent used in some hand sanitizers, as well as other health and beauty products, also appears to pose some risk. According to a report published in the Washington Post, the FDA is taking another look at Triclosan because some scientific studies appear to raise questions about the chemical's potential to disrupt the human endocrine system.
Samuel S. Epstein, MD and Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, Chicago, points out other concerns about Triclosan:
- Triclosan persists in the environment and is one of the top 10 contaminents found in U.S. waterways.
- The chemical has been identified as a contaminent in umbilical chord samples, and it has also been identified in breast milk.
- Triclosan reacts with chlorinated water to produce chloroform gas.
Furthermore, M. Angela McGhee, Ph.D., Biology and Marine Sciences, warns that Triclosan is actually classed as a pesticide by the U.S. Enviromental Protection Agency. Dr. McGhee maintains that Triclosan is a chlorophenol, and chlorophenols possibly cause cancer in people. Despite these concerns, Triclosan still has FDA approval for use in hand sanitizer.
Potential for Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
According to Medical News Today, another concern about hand sanitizers is that over-reliance on these products could ultimately produce bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Medical News reports that a study of 161 long-term care facilities revealed that facilities which favored using hand sanitizer over traditional hand washing were more likely to experience outbreaks of norovirus.
To reduce the risk of transferring viruses and other infectious agents, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water. Only rely on hand sanitizers when you have no other alternative.
Risk of Habitual Use
The very convenience of using hand sanitizing gels can be dangerous. As people become accustomed to using instant products, they may tend to skip washing their hands with soap and water. If this habit persists, they may consistently have unclean hands and could potentially spread germs or contract illnesses. This theory would appear to be supported by the findings of the same study mentioned by Medical News Today.
Take these steps to avoid becoming overly dependent on hand sanitizers:
- Only use instant sanitizers when it is not possible to wash your hands conventionally.
- Just buy small bottles of sanitizers to limit your use.
- Use instant products only on the hands and not on other parts of the body.
Potential Fire Hazard
According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, some hand sanitizers are flammable due to their high alcohol content. A small amount of sanitizer, if ignited, can burn very hot very quickly, which can lead to personal injury or property damage.
To avoid a fire hazard, never use alcohol-based sanitizer near a heat source or an open flame.
Use with Care or Not at All
Ultimately, you have to weigh the risks for yourself. If you decide you want to use hand sanitizer, make sure you follow the directions on the label, and pay special attention to working the gel in between your fingers and under your nails so you don't miss any spots. Remember, germs are just waiting for their chance to wreak havoc, so be thorough.