You see them everywhere — in cars, classrooms, handbags, and terminals. People use sanitizers to 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. Most sanitizers are considered quite effective in killing bacteria.
Still, hand-washing remains a tried and true approach, and when hands are actually dirty, soap and water is the only 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. Let’s face it, most children think a quick squirt is more fun than washing with soap and water, and teachers can “clean” all the students’ hands in a classroom for lunch much 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 his tics, so she has stopped applying it.
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 close to the nose of a child.
(For young children, all sanitizers should be kept out of their reach and used under supervision. Reports of children drinking the liquid with serious adverse reactions have been verified.)
Skindeep, a website by the Environmental Working Group, ranks harmful ingredients in skin products and has an analysis of hand sanitizers. The data suggests that a careful look is definitely warranted.
First published 2009
Update - January 2013
The original Latitudes article above goes on to list some of the brand names considered most harmful, as well as one that received a very good rating for safety. In the intervening period, some of the products have been discontinued and others may have changed their formulations.
The sanitizer rated safest,
All Terrain Hand Sanz (low hazard), remains on the market.
The cosmetic database gives 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 www.allterrainco.com or from some retailers.
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