As Autumn brings its beautiful colors and falling leaves, its temperature fluctuations and cooler weather also begin to introduce allergies, the common cold, and flu. ‘Tis the season when we experience a dramatic increase in the use of hand sanitizers.
Many people use hand sanitizers daily, even applying them several times a day, without a thought as to their effectiveness or safety. This is just another example where convenience and effective marketing convinces consumers they need a product they’d truthfully be better off without.
Hand sanitizers are not as safe and effective as most people have been influenced to believe, and where there’s water—a good soapy hand washing will always be the wiser choice. Here are four considerations that may help make your determination.
Slathering on these “instant hand cleansers” may not only prove ineffective at eliminating threats, it furthermore delivers toxic ingredients that are damaging to the body. Although hand sanitizers containing triclosan are strong antibacterial agents, they are minimally effective against fungi and fail completely in protecting against most viruses. Furthermore, triclosan has been shown to have the following negative side effects:
- disrupts endocrine system
- disturbs thyroid function
- amplifies testosterone
- reduces muscle strength
- causes liver damage
- increases risk of cancer
- damages the immune system
Since triclosan has no disease preventing capabilities beyond hand washing, the smartest way to stay protected is the old-fashioned soapy water approach. In fact, a U.S. FDA advisory committee found that the use of antibacterial soaps provides no benefits over plain soap and water.
Possibly one of the most concerning factors of utilizing antibacterial soaps and sanitizers is the belief that it may lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. In a sense, we are creating “bigger and badder” super bugs that require “bigger and badder” antibiotics to overcome them. Antibiotics, and their over-use, is another huge issue and a further topic to consider.
“Predominant bacteria like E.coli, salmonella, shigella, and other intestinal bacteria become resistant to triclosan fairly readily.”
Choosing an alcohol-based hand sanitizers without triclosan can be an improvement, yet make certain it contains at least 60% alcohol. Ethyl Alcohol is the safest as bacteria are unable to create resistance and therefore the product may stay effective over time. Unfortunately, the ingredients composing the other 30-40% are problematic, such as glycerin and propylene glycol.
A University of Virginia study reports that alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not reduce the overall number of cold and flu occurrences, thereby suggesting that they are ineffective.
The numerous unnecessary chemical compounds found in hand sanitizers, including “fragrances,” are where the problems multiply. The manufacturers of these products in most cases are not required to list what ingredients constitute their “fragrance,” which typically contain toxic chemicals.
If you insist on using hand sanitizers make sure to choose a fragrance-free brand with minimal ingredients. It’s important to look carefully at the ingredient list since many brands will state that they include 60% alcohol yet do not list a single ingredient of the remaining 40%. That fact, in and of itself, is reason enough not to use it.
The Environmental Working Group’s “skin-deep” database can help you find a safer hand sanitizer if you are determined to use one. You may also create a homemade hand-sanitizer using a pure grain alcohol or witch hazel.
Where there’s water—choose traditional hand-washing
People use hand sanitizers unnecessarily such as in situations where soap and water are nearby. For example, hand sanitizers are found at the entrance of many grocery stores, yet a trip to the bathroom for a soapy hand wash is a smarter option.
Pay attention as you may also experience many sink washing stations adorned with “antibacterial soaps” or even hand-sanitizers. When you have the option, use a basic soap and avoid these antibacterial potions.
Regardless the type of soap, a key point to consider is that when you wash your hands with water, at least you partially rinse away the product ingredients. When using the so-called “convenient” water-free hand-sanitizers you leave the ingredients to be absorbed into the skin, and with children many of these ingredients end up in their mouths. The resulting damage is far from convenient, so choose wisely.
The best way to ward off any illness, including the common cold and flu, is to eat a diet rich in fresh leafy greens and vegetables, Vitamin C, D, and garlic, while consuming plenty of clean purified water and maintaining a regular habit of hand washing with a truly natural cleanser.