Do sanitizers harm more than doing good? Is it safe to use them frequently? Do they really clean our hands?
Hand sanitizers seem to be an easy alternative to clean hands when water is not available around. It comes in the form of gels, lotions or liquid solutions.
They contain alcohol which works as an antiseptic. Other ingredients in it include water, fragrance, and glycerine. The non-alcoholic sanitizers contain triclosan, an antibiotic compound. According to the FDA, triclosan contributes to certain major health risks1
This puts us in doubt whether the sanitizers are handy or carry risk.
Soaps and hand wash flush off the germs, while sanitizers when applied on the skin kill the germs with the alcohol or the antibiotic ingredient present in it. According to CDC, a sanitizer should contain 60% alcohol to be really effective.2
Benefits of Using Hand Sanitizers
Washing hand frequently is not easy. Here comes the role of the sanitizers. Any place or condition which requires frequent cleaning our hands, sanitizers play their role.
They can be used in hospitals to prevent the transfer of bacteria or viruses from one patient to another or to the doctors.
While traveling, if the water is not easily available, you can obviously sanitize your hands.
Harmful Effects of Using Hand Sanitizers
- Antibiotic Resistance: Antibiotics helps in fighting bacteria. Triclosan present in sanitizers, contribute to making the bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Excess use of sanitizers may lower the resistance to diseases by killing the good bacteria. A research found that health care employees who used hand sanitizers over soap and water for routine hand cleaning were 6 times more at risk of an outbreak of norovirus, a cause of most of the acute gastroenteritis cases3 Overuse or improper use of any antibiotic leads to bacterial resistance making treatment difficult.
- Dry Skin: Alcohol used in hand sanitizers which include isopropyl, ethanol, and n-propanol, can lead to dry skin. Continuous usage can also damage the skin. The drying effect can accelerate aging and can lead to the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, cracks, and flakiness. Over a period of time alcohols in the sanitizers can disrupt the natural barrier function of the skin, which is the ability to protect itself. This can lead to increased dehydration.
- Weakens the Immune System: Triclosan can harm the immune system that protects the body against diseases. It negatively affects the human immune system 4. A compromised immune system can make a person more susceptible to allergies and vulnerable to toxic chemicals.5
- Hormone Disruption: A study shows that triclosan can lead to hormone disruption and make bacteria to adapt antimicrobial properties. This creates antibiotic-resistant strains.6 It changes the way the hormones work in the body.
- Unknown Chemicals: Some sanitizers have a fragrance which usually indicates chemicals, which can prove to be toxic. Since the list of fragrances is not listed you may not be able to know what you are putting on your skin. Many sanitizers also contain phthalates, which make the fragrance last longer. Phthalates are endocrine disrupters. Fragrances can lead to skin allergies, respiratory distress, dermatitis, and some effects on the reproductive system.
There is not much evidence on, whether antibacterial soaps are more effective than the regular soaps. A study also found that sanitizers do not effectively reduce the number of bacteria, and might eventually increase it. Also, it is said that if sanitizers strip away the oils of the skin (oil form a barrier and prevents the bacteria from coming to the surface), how, can it provide a defense against them.
Do not make, using sanitizers a habit. It is fine to use them when you do not have water available around.