When I was a child, my grandfather taught me the importance of handwashing by intertwining my fingers and using plenty of soap and warm water. Unfortunately, those good old days have come to an end thanks to the convenience of hand sanitizers. They’re available everywhere from playgrounds, restaurant bathrooms and gyms to gas stations, and even next to the shopping carts at grocery stores. For those on the move, hand sanitizers are available in convenient key ring and belt holster dispensers.
Just how effective are they? Actually, hand sanitizers contain Ethyl Alcohol which only keeps certain germs from growing. The downside of using alcohol on the skin is it strips away vital dermal skin oils and destroys protective cells that naturally keep us safe from infections. Manufacturers of hand sanitizers claim their products kills “99.99 percent of all germs” but that’s far from the truth! In fact, there are many germs not destroyed by hand sanitizers including Salmonella, E. Coli, Human Parvo, Botulism, Anthrax, H1N1 and the Noro Virus. Hepatitis causing blood and feces are also unaffected by hand sanitizers. What about the coronavirus? Hand sanitizers are actually not effective in preventing the coronavirus as many media outlets have claimed. A 2019 study that looked at ethanol-based disinfectants’ ability to kill the influenza A virus (IVA) revealed that its “effectiveness against IAV in mucus was extremely low.” The researchers found it took almost four minutes for the hand sanitizer to eliminate the flu virus compared to simply washing hands with an antiseptic cleanser, which worked in 30 seconds.
Until recently, manufacturers were adding a bacteria-busting chemical to hand sanitizers called triclosan. Even though it was considered a toxic pesticide by the Environmental Protection Agency and linked to causing a lowered-immune system, the FDA continued to deem the ingredient as “safe.” The Mayo Clinic showed how triclosan promoted the evolution of drug-resistant strains of bacteria, which means hand sanitizers were making people prone to future infections. After these findings, the FDA banned the use of triclosan in hand-sanitizers but they still allow it to be used to make soaps, mouthwash, toothpaste, cosmetics, and deodorants. (A topic for a later blog post discussion.)
Children are most affected by the health risks of hand sanitizers. Because they aren’t packaged in childproof containers, kids are attracted to the fruity scents and bright colors added during manufacturing. The Institute of Medicine puts these fragrances in the same category as second-hand smoke for triggering asthma and they’re also considered a common cause of contact dermatitis. Swallowing even a small amount of these alcohol-based products can lead to alcohol poisoning, brain damage and even death! From 2005 to 2009, the National Poison Data System received reports of 68,712 exposures to 96 ethanol-based hand sanitizers. The number of new cases increases by an average of 95% per year!
These convenient, water-free solutions contain many other dangerous ingredients including triethanolamine, diazolidinyl urea, denatonium benzoate, and synthetic dyes (i.e. FD&C Blue 1, FD&C Red 4). Hand Sanitizers also contains another poison called Benzophenone-4, which wreaks havoc on a child’s hormones and can retard normal sexual development. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) Cosmetic Safety Database, warns to stay clear of this “endocrine-disrupting chemical." This chemical can also cause heart disease and toxicity of the brain! With all these side effects, many parents need to think twice before pouring these sanitizers all over their children’s hands…which always ends up in their mouths.
Hand sanitizers can vary in the amount of alcohol they contain, ranging anywhere from 60 to 95 percent (180 proof)! To put that into perspective, beer is only 8 proof and wine is generally 24 proof. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS,) a globally accepted system for cataloging information on chemicals, states the following warnings on Ethyl Alcohol:
“May cause systemic toxicity with acidosis, liver and kidney damage. May cause central nervous system depression, characterized by excitement, followed by headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. Advanced stages may cause collapse, unconsciousness, coma and possible death due to respiratory failure.”
The health care industry relies on hand sanitizers to save time. Family doctors and dentists use them between patients and hospital physicians and nurses often rely on them in lieu of pre and post-op surgical handwashing! Long-term-care facilities keep hand sanitizers in every room…right next to the sink.
Natural Alternatives to Hand Sanitizers
Hand sanitizers were developed to use in a pinch when soap and water weren’t available, but they were never intended as a replacement for soap and water. However, when parents are out and about, it’s not always easy to get a child to soap and running water. Even as adults we may find it inconvenient to find a sink when our hands are dirty. There’s a healthier alternative; make your own hand sanitizer using natural plant extracts, known as “essential oils.” Current research shows they have powerful anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-microbial properties. Dr. Diane Horne of Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, presented findings to the 98th general assembly of The American Society of Microbiology. Dr. Horne’s researchers tested the germ destroying properties of 74 essential oils and discovered that the best results occurred with oregano, thyme and rosewood oils. These oils are a powerful remedy against many tough germs, even those that may not be fully destroyed by ethyl alcohol like the coronavirus!
Here’s the recipe:
Mix 4 ounces of water with 10 drops of essential oils such as oregano, thyme and rosewood oil, and half a capful of white vinegar. White vinegar kills germs and serves as a natural preservative. For a thicker consistency, substitute 4 ounces of Aloe Vera Gel instead of water. For even more germ-fighting and anti-oxidant protection, you can add a few drops of lemon juice. Store them in travel-sized containers that will fit conveniently in a pocket, purse or glove box.
Using a natural hand sanitizer is a safe and effective replacement for alcohol-based products that contain harsh and toxic chemicals. But, if you really want to protect yourself from coronavirus and have the cleanest, germ-free hands possible, take the advice of my grandfather and put those dirty hands under the faucet, lather up with soap and warm water and scrub-a-dub-dub.