Not All Hand Sanitizers are Equal
November 2, 2013

Not All Hand Sanitizers Are Equal

Every fall, elementary, junior high, and even high school students around the country have to bring a bottle of hand sanitizer to their teachers. Moms and Dads alike keep hand sanitizer in their cars, on their desks, in their bags. We see hand sanitizer in public restrooms and even in porta-johns. Hand sanitizer is everywhere!

And most people believe it is helping to prevent the spread of the flu viruses, colds, and even ickies like E. Coli. But is it really effective at combating these diseases? The truth is no, not all hand sanitizers do this, as CNN recently reported.  In fact, hand sanitizers that contain Triclosan do a poor job at sanitizing anything. As the CNN article notes, “Dr. Anna Bowen, a medical epidemiologist at The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says, “Triclosan-containing products don’t provide any disease protection beyond what you get from washing with soap and water.” Triclosan is used in non-alcoholic hand sanitizers. In fact, Triclosan may have some detrimental outcomes including:

  • disrupting the endocrine system
  • amplifying testosterone
  • reducing muscle strength as shown in animal studies
  • harming the immune system
  • maybe even becoming toxic
  • and not protecting against viruses or fungi

The last of this list is perhaps the most frustrating as most people use hand sanitizers with the understanding that they are, in fact, protecting against viruses or fungi. The Triclosan-based sanitizers are not providing what people think they are. redOrbit explains more of the issues with these:

  • Hand sanitizers do not clean off visible dirt. They’re meant to kill germs, but if you can see dirt, grime, blood, or anything else, you need to wash with soap and water.
  • Not all sanitizers effectively kill germs. Inspect the label carefully. Make certain that the sanitizer contains a concentration of 60% to 95% ethanol (ethyl alcohol) or isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol). Anything less than 60% will not effectively kill germs. Watch for these subpar formulations in the bargain bin or at dollar stores.
  • Sanitizers can be poisonous. These products contain high levels of alcohol, and some come in tantalizingly scented varieties. Children can be tempted to taste the gel. A tiny lick at their sanitized skin shouldn’t hurt, but ingesting too much can cause alcohol poisoning. For the sake of cleanliness and convenience, many parents are sending mini-bottles of sanitizer to school with their young children. Some newer backpack models even come with an attachment for them! Kids may consider it a toy – or a treat – and share it with friends. Teach your children sanitizer safety and encourage them to use the product properly and only when absolutely necessary.
  • The ingredients can irritate. Alcohol is drying to the skin, and added fragrances may trigger allergic reactions and irritations. Many hand sanitizers contain moisturizers to counterbalance the drying effect.

Both the CNN article and the information about hand sanitizers on redOrbit identify that alcohol-based sanitizers are a different case. They are effective at killing viruses and fungi and other bacterial pathogens. They do not kill everything, but they are more effective than Triclosan-based sanitizers.

Of course, the best method to kill off these ickies is to regularly wash our hands with warm water and soap, but if we must use hand sanitizer for some reason, then make sure to use the alcohol-based kind. Not all hand sanitizers are equal, after all.

Image Credit: Boris Bulychev / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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