You see them everywhere — in cars, classrooms, handbags, and terminals. People use sanitizers assuming they will help them stay healthy, but can they do more harm than good? The answer: it depends which one you choose.
Most think a good squirt of a hand sanitizer will kill the bacteria and viruses on their hands. But the standard products do not actually kill viruses. Rather, once you’ve rubbed the liquid onto your hands, viruses are simply less likely to attach to them. At the same time, most sanitizers are considered effective in killing bacteria.
Still, hand-washing remains a tried and true approach, and when hands are actually dirty, soap and water is the best way to go; sanitizers do not remove dirt and grime. Since adults and kids aren’t always in a convenient location to wash their hands, the sanitizers have become a popular item, especially during flu season. Children tend to think a quick squirt is more fun than washing with soap and water, and teachers can “clean” all the students’ hands in a classroom before lunchtime faster with sanitizers than by taking the class to the washroom.
Possible Harmful Effects of Sanitizers
In the article “Stopping a Tic in its Tracks,” the author questioned the safety of using a standard hand sanitizer on her chemically sensitive son who was experiencing tics. After checking the full list of ingredients on the product, she suspected the product played a role in aggravating the boy’s tics, so she has stopped applying it to his hands.
Her letter caused us to take a closer look at these cleansers. Remember that sanitizers rubbed into the skin are going to be partially absorbed by the body, and of course anything put on the hands also has a good chance of ending up in the mouth or being close to the nose of a child.
A website by the Environmental Working Group ranked harmful ingredients in skin products and has an analysis of hand sanitizers. The data suggests that a careful look is definitely warranted.
Below we highlight some of the brand names considered most harmful, as well as one that received a very good rating for safety. (For young children, all sanitizers should be kept out of reach and used under supervision. Reports of some children drinking the liquid with serious adverse reactions have been verified.)
Dial Antibacterial Hand Sanitizer
As an example, let’s start with the Dial sanitizer product, which received a score of 7 out of 10, with 0 being the safest and 10 the most hazardous. Ingredients for this Dial sanitizer: Alcohol, methylparaben, propylparaben, fragrance, water, carbomer, diisopropylamine, polysorbate 80, cetyl alcohol, acetylated lanolin alcohol, diazolidinyl urea, and propylene glycol. Find the Dial sanitizer on the Avoid List below, and click on its link to the database to see exactly which of these ingredients are responsible for its poor rating.
Sanitizers to Avoid According to Environmental Working Group (July 2009)
- Dial Antibacterial Hand Sanitizer
- Purell Hand Sanitizer
- Germ-X Moisturizing Hand Sanitizer with Aloe
- HandClens Alcohol Free
- Walgreens Instant Hand Sanitizer,
Lavender & Camomile
Sanitizer Rated Safest
All Terrain Hand Sanz (low hazard)
The cosmetic database gave this product a score of 1 out of 10, with 0 being the safest. The manufacturer reports that it has been independently tested and proven to eliminate 99.9% of germs and bacteria, including Pneumonia, E. coli and S. Aureus (MRSA). Hand Sanz™ all natural ingredients enable the consumer to sanitize the hands without exposure to harsh chemicals that damage the skin and leave it overly dry. The all natural product comes in two formulas, “Fragrance Free” and “Aloe & Vitamin E,” for extra moisturizing. It can be ordered online at allterrainco.com or from select retailers. No doubt there are other brands not included in this database.
Check with the Environmental Working Group for updated analysis on current products.