At the time of recording this episode, we are still at the height of a global pandemic. The repeated mantra is: stay 6 feet apart, wear a mask and wash your hands. It’s no surprise then that a bottle of hand sanitizer has become a mainstay in every house, school, bag and car. So, in this episode, I want to explore what’s actually in the average hand sanitizer and why we need to be more careful about the brands we use.
Listen to the LAUNDRY episode here.
Listen to the TOOTHPASTE episode here.
Listen to the SHAMPOO episode here.
Listen to the FRAGRANCE episode here.
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At the time of recording this episode, we are still at the height of a global pandemic. The repeated mantra is: stay 6 feet apart, wear a mask and wash your hands. It’s no surprise then that a bottle of hand sanitizer has become a mainstay in every house, school, bag and car. Many of us are using hand sanitizer several times a day, whether it’s going to the grocery store or bringing in the mail. So, in this episode, I want to explore what’s actually in the average hand sanitizer and why we need to be more careful about the brand we use.
If your child is in daycare, pre-school or any other type of school that is open, then one of the first things they likely have to do before entering the classroom is get their temperature taken and apply hand sanitizer.
There is no doubt that it’s important to stop the spread of germs during this time. That’s not to say it doesn’t make me cringe every time hand sanitizer is sprayed on my three year old’s palms.
So, what’s my issue?
First, there are no hand sanitizers currently on the market that have actually been approved by the FDA.
On the Food and Drug Administration’s website, they warn that any brand or manufacturer claiming to have FDA approval is falsifying information.
But this isn’t my main concern. My main concern is the drying alcohol in hand sanitizer, which is the primary ingredient.
In order to be effective, and kill germs, hand sanitizing products must contain 60 percent alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And that’s a lot of alcohol to put on your skin. These drying alcohols not only irritate and dry out the skin, but they strip away your natural skin oils and acid mantle, dehydrating the cells and breaking down the skin’s natural immune barrier.
This disruption of natural barrier function reduces your skin’s ability to protect itself. In other words, when the world goes back to “normal” one day, we will have weakened the skin’s natural immune barrier to fight off germs without using sanitizer. It’s almost like we’re creating a dependency on it.
So that’s one thing to consider: the harm caused by the alcohol in hand sanitizer. But then there’s another common ingredient called Triclosan.
Triclosan is an antibacterial I’ve mentioned in the Laundry, Toothpaste and Shampoo episodes that is toxic and has been found in animal studies to disrupt hormone function. It’s also connected to the rise of so-called “superbugs”— which are bacteria and viruses that can resist antibiotics. Triclosan has been banned in Europe and banned by the FDA for some products in the U.S. but is still found in various personal care products on the market, including many hand sanitizers.
And then there is the issue of many fragrances found in hand sanitizer — I did a whole separate episode on the harmful effects of synthetic fragrance. Since manufacturers are not required to list fragrance ingredients on the label, you don’t know what you’re exposing yourself to — the effects of chemical fragrance can range from allergy to hormone disruption to long-term health damage.
Okay, so that’s three things: alcohol, triclosan and fragrances. And then there’s this:
In August 2020, the FDA released a warning to consumers and health care providers that they’ve seen a sharp increase in hand sanitizer products that are labeled to contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol) and have tested positive for methanol contamination.
According to the FDA, “Methanol, or wood alcohol, is a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested and can be life-threatening when ingested.”
The statement on the FDA’s website goes on to say: “Methanol is not an acceptable ingredient for hand sanitizers and must not be used due to its toxic effects. FDA’s investigation of methanol in certain hand sanitizers is ongoing.”
The agency says it’s aware of adults and children ingesting hand sanitizer products contaminated with methanol that have led to recent adverse events including blindness, hospitalizations and death.
They went on to publish a 23 page chart listing all of the brands of hand sanitizer that they say consumers should not use. Thankfully, most of them have been recalled but I will post that chart in the show notes so you can search your own hand sanitizer and make sure it’s not on the list. Go to cleanlivingpodcast.com/handsanitizer (all one word).
The truth of the matter is, and science supports, that soap and water do a far better job in actually cleaning our hands and is far less detrimental to our health. When we use a dollop of hand sanitizer, we think we’re reducing our risk of getting sick but we’re actually just weakening our immune systems further.
The FDA has also said that currently, there is no evidence that hand sanitizers are any more effective than regular soap and water in helping to prevent the spread of germs.
Of course there are instances when you’re in a bind and you can’t get to a sink or running water. And especially now, it’s all of our individual responsibility to stop the spread of germs. So, in the show notes I’m going to recommend a few different hand sanitizers that have been verified by the Environmental Working Group and are far less harmful to our natural skin barrier than some of the products you’ll find on the market. Again, that’s at cleanlivingpodcast.com/handsanitizer
Before I go, I just want to give a quick shout-out to my mom’s friend Susan who requested this episode topic. If you’d like to make your own episode request, and can’t go through my mom ; ), there is a survey link on the podcast website where you can submit your suggestion. Just go to cleanlivingpodcast.com/hello
Thanks so much for listening to this episode of The Clean Living Podcast — I’m your host Shannon Lohr. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend or family member — the person you know is addicted to their bottle of hand sanitizer (we all know someone). Here’s to creating a cleaner, more sustainable world for all of us.