Is It Safe To Use Sanitizer All The Time?
Well, the answer to it is both Yes and No, depending on what is meant by “all the time” and how you use the sanitizer and the type of sanitizer used. It is usually and mostly safe to use hand sanitizers, as they are meant for your safety after all. You can use hand sanitizers throughout your day, about 7 to 10 times. Sanitizers are made for your safety, to prevent the transmission of infections and in this pandemic; it has become one of the essentials to be had. The sanitizers contain ingredients, such as 1-propronol and methanol, which does not cross your skin barrier on your hands to a sufficient degree that needs to be concerned about.(9, 10)
However, one important thing to keep in mind is that all types of hand sanitizers should be kept out of reach of children; however, safe they might be. Any hand sanitizer contains ethanol, which can be harmful for child if ingested in sufficient amount or not properly used. Children as well as adolescents should be taught about all the harmful effects of drinking or ingesting sanitizer.(6)
Thanks to this raging pandemic and covid-19, we all are using so much sanitizer the whole day, every day. Sanitizers help us in prevention from COVID-19. However, keeping the good part of the sanitizer aside, it is important to know the other side of the sanitizers. Hand sanitizers specially are made with some specific ingredients that can be harmful for your health if not used as directed. Hand sanitizers that have isopropanol or ethanol are safe to use, especially if you are using reputed brands. Hand sanitizers are specially needed when there is no soap and water around and you need to clean or disinfect your hands to prevent COVID-19.(3) Hand sanitizers are safe to use as long as you are using them on your skin and hands and not ingesting it.(3) If there is soap and water available, then using that is preferable to using hand sanitizers.(4)
The biggest concern when it comes to hand sanitizers are ingesting them accidentally or otherwise, especially by teens and children. Keeping this in mind, the FDA has given a list of hand sanitizers that are not to be sold or used by the general public.
Some Concerning Facts about Hand Sanitizers
- There have been more and more reports of problems with hand sanitizers in the recent times.
- There has been two-fold increase in the adverse effects from hand sanitizer experienced by the people in the last year.
- The calls/queries related to hand sanitizer are increasing as many people are concerned regarding the safety of using hand sanitizers.(1)
Common reports are about the presence of specific type of alcohol, which is methanol in the hand sanitizers that can produce adverse effects like headaches, vomiting or nausea. Some more serious side effects consist of: seizures, blindness and even nervous system damage if excessive methanol ingested.(8)
Chemicals Present In Sanitizers That Can Be Potentially Harmful
If the sanitizer (methanol) is used as it should be, that is on the external surface on your skin to disinfect, then it doesn’t cause any problems as the amount that get absorbed into the skin is minimal and it also essentially evaporates.(2, 9) Adults can deal with this minimal methanol; however, if a lot of it is taken internally, then the human body cannot deal with it.
One harmful chemical present in hand sanitizer used improperly or ingested is 1-propanol, which is a form of alcohol used in making cleaners. Some of the side effects when this is consumed include: decreased heart rate, breathing and sometimes death. This chemical 1-propanol can also cause irritation to the eyes and skin upon exposure.
According to experts, the chances of sufficient amount of 1-propanol to seep through the skin to cause problems are very less.(9, 10) However, if a hand sanitizer that you are using is on the FDA’s list, then it is better not to use it.
More than the ingredients, the primary concern when it comes to using sanitizers all the time is:
- If someone tries to ingest sanitizer to get high or intoxicated.
- If a child tries to taste or lick the sanitizer.
- Most of the calls about hand sanitizers concerned children. If a child accidentally or unknowingly licks or drinks enough of it, then it causes problems. (1, 6) If a child consumes any alcohol at 70%, then it can result in stopping of their breathing, as their bodies are unable to process the blood sugar after ingesting alcohol and all the sanitizers have alcohol in them.
There are Three Categories of Safety When It Comes to Using Hand Sanitizers(11, 12)
Category 1: Sanitizers Are Absolutely Safe When Used As Intended
Sanitizers present in this category are hand sanitizers that are alcohol-based in the United States containing either isopropanol or ethanol (ethyl alcohol). If your hand sanitizer is not on the FDA’s list and is from a reputed brand, then there isn’t any problem in using it as directed and it is safe to use such sanitizer “all the time.” With the proper use of hand sanitizers, the risk of alcohol exposure via inhalation is next to nothing as they evaporate. Whatever little amount you inhale is extremely less and is not harmful. Other than this, ethanol is present in very less amounts in food items and your environment. Isopropanol is also close to various metabolites and the exposure via inhalation is nothing to be worried about and it gets evaporates when used as directed.
The amount via skin exposure is even less, so there is nothing to be worried about when used as directed. However, when sanitizer is used in children then it should be done with care. Children’s skin is thinner when compared to the adults and the surface/volume area of the skin in the children also differs from adults. So, this can potentially cause a problem, however, the chances of that are also less if the sanitizers are used by children in the proper way.
So, the concern in children as to the unhealthy exposure to the ingredients in the sanitizer when used as intended, with regards to the ethanol and isopropanol, is extremely less.
Category 2 (Middle): Cautious Use Advised; If Any Doubts, Do Not Use!
If you are using a hand sanitizer, which is not of a known brand or something which you have never heard of, then this comes under middle category and should be used cautiously or simply just not use it at all.
Category 3: Present on FDA’s list, do not use it or STOP using it and safely discard it
This last category contains hand sanitizers that have either 1-propanol or methanol in it. These sanitizers should not be used and should be safely discarded.
How To Ensure Safely Using Sanitizer All The Time? Some Tips To Protect And Prevent Hand Sanitizer Poisoning:(7)
As mentioned before, hand sanitizers are generally safe to use when used as directed to disinfect your hands. Hand sanitizers can be safely used about 5 to 7 times a day or even more if needed. The toxic, but essential ingredients, i.e. 1-propronol and methanol, do not pass through skin of the hands such that it will cause any problems. The important thing is to keep the sanitizers out of reach from children, however, reputed the brand might be. If the hand sanitizer is ingested by the child, then it can be extremely harmful. Teenagers should be taught about the dangers of drinking sanitizer for whatever reasons they might want to do it for.(6)
- Always buy hand sanitizers that contain alcohol (ethanol) in the range of 70 to 95%.(4, 5)
- Never pour the sanitizer down the drain or flush it in the toilet.
- Do not buy hand sanitizer containing 1-propanol or methanol in it.(1, 8)
- If you have mistakenly bought hand sanitizers listed in the FDA warning, then immediately stop using them and dispose them in hazardous waste containers ASAP.(1)
- Never ever drink hand sanitizer, they are meant for your hands and you should keep it that way.(1, 6)
- If you feel like rubbing or touching your eyes after using a hand sanitizer, then let the sanitizer completely dry on your hands first.
- A couple of pumps per application are sufficient for disinfecting your hands.
- If your children are using hand sanitizer, then supervise them when doing so.
- Be mindful of where you are keeping your hand sanitizers. Do not leave hand sanitizers in a hot car, as it will lose its effectiveness through evaporation of the alcohol.
- Make sure that you educate your family members, friends and others about the safe use of hand sanitizers.
So, coming to the question of whether is it safe to use sanitizer all the time? The answer would be undoubtedly YES, as long as they are used as intended. Hand sanitizers should be used from a reputed or known brand and should be used for disinfecting your hands only. Caution should be used where children and sanitizers are concerned. In this pandemic, the use of hand sanitizers has become a necessity to prevent covid-19 and is one of the effective methods for preventing this disease among other things. But it doesn’t mean that you abuse the use of sanitizers. If there is soap and water available, then choose that for cleaning your hands over a sanitizer, as the former is more preferable.(3, 4)
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