Hand sanitizer is quite literally everywhere. If the pumps of Purell fastened to nearly every other wall in America isn’t enough to convince us, maybe the fact that we see people carrying mini-bottles of it everywhere is. As a side note, in typing out this article, this writer noticed a nearly-forgotten about small pump of generic hand sanitizer sitting on the desk…seriously.
On the surface it makes sense. We see the “Kills 99.99-whatever% of germs” label and it sounds good. Nobody wants germs anywhere near them. The product is usually quite cheap, we stay healthy, and all is good. Well, that’s not quite accurate.
In fact, the ultra-clean image that hand sanitizer companies wanted to convey was enough to grab the attention of America’s most prominent public health organization – the Food and Drug Administration (or FDA). The FDA is solely responsible for regulating a multitude of products that affect public health. This organization also approves or denies all kinds of consumable products, from animal feed to tobacco. In other words, companies don’t want to be flagged by these guys.
In April of 2015, the FDA required companies that produced hand soap and alcohol-based sanitizers to produce a multitude of safety data. Here are some of the requirements specified by the FDA of sanitizer producers:
– Proof that the product does not adversely affect pregnant women.
– Proof that the product does not aid the development of antibacterial resistance.
– Proof that the product does not have significant hormonal effects.
All three of these demands from the FDA are serious causes for concern. Understandably, many pregnant women are concerned; although there is not yet sufficient evidence that hand sanitizer is particularly harmful to this demographic.
The FDA is concerned that triclosan – an ingredient in some hand sanitizers – may have hormonal effects. Specifically, that it may alter the thyroid and reproductive systems of newborns. Needless to say, these requirements from the FDA has casted a leery eye upon the multi-billion dollar industry.
It turns out that there are other (and less serious) ways that hand sanitizer may be harmful.
Here’s why you need to stop using hand sanitizer:
1. It harms our skin
Sanitizing products contain mostly alcohol, which is known for having a drying effect. Since alcohol increases the absorption ability of the skin, it also allows for chemicals to penetrate – effectively “de-fatting” the skin, or disrupting oil production. Aside from the harmful effects created by alcohol, sanitizers also contain glycerin which can be irritating to the skin and enhance the sanitizer’s drying effect. There are other ingredients, such as glycol and acetate, that can further damage our skin.
2. It can create resistant bacteria
First of all, don’t get images of “The Walking Dead” here. Bacterial resistance may sound awfully frightening, but it’s certainly not that frightening. Here’s the deal: overuse of antibiotics can potentially lead to the development of bacteria that is resistant to the element. In other words, bacteria have the ability to evolve just like everything else; the more that we expose certain bacteria to the same elements, the higher chance that the element will have a diminished effect.
The Center for Disease Control (or CDC) estimates that in 2013, these “superbugs” were responsible for about 23,000 deaths. While certainly not a mind-boggling number when compared to the overall population of the United States, the CDC and other interested groups want to counteract this trend by minimizing any unnecessary risk. This includes allowing bacteria to develop resistant qualities.
3. It contains unknown and potentially dangerous chemicals
As stated, sanitizers contain mostly alcohol or triclosan, but there are other chemicals that are included in the product as well. Most scented sanitizers use some sort of preservative to prolong the product’s shelf life. However, these preservatives are absorbed into our skin each time that we use the product.
We mention scented sanitizers because they’re far more likely to have these preservatives. Two preservatives – phthalates and parabens – can potentially disrupt hormonal production. Not to mention, there are some companies that do not detail what ingredients are contained.
4. It can increase absorption of bad chemicals
We’ve already mentioned that sanitizers increase the skin’s absorption. In doing so, the skin becomes vulnerable to potentially damaging chemicals. One such chemical is called Bisphenol A, which can cause damage to the endocrine system. Studies have linked BPA to cancer, heart disease, infertility, and diabetes.
In a study at the University of Missouri, researchers used thermal receipt paper – the kind many cash registers use – to demonstrate the threat. Thermal receipt paper also contains high levels of BPA. Researchers discovered that in subjects that used sanitizer before touching the paper, the absorption of BPA increased by over a hundred times.
5. Soap and water work almost as well
Yes, regular soap and water may work just as well in many cases. In fact, most experts recommend using soap and water unless it is more beneficial to use sanitizer, such as in a healthcare setting. The FDA even takes this recommendation further, advising people to use regular soap instead of antibacterial soap, claiming there is not much of a difference. Further, antibacterial soap can aid in the bacteria developing resistance.
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Bottom line: if we have access to soap and water, we should use it. When we shop for soap, we can stay away from the antibacterial type. And we should continue to do the best thing for humanity, and not give bacteria the opportunity to develop resistance to our defenses! Stay healthy, fellow readers!