Hand Hygiene—to Sanitize or Not Sanitize?

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Hand Hygiene—to Sanitize or Not Sanitize?

When you’re out in public, touching all kinds of germy surfaces, or cleaning up after kids and pets that are covered in who-knows-what, it’s pretty easy to reach for that convenient bottle of hand sanitizer. Recently, however, hand sanitizers have come under scrutiny for their safety. They are undoubtedly effective, killing most bacteria and viruses, but they might also come at a high price to your health.

The active ingredient in non-alcoholic hand sanitizers is triclosan, which has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system and amplify testosterone.[1] In animal studies, triclosan was found to reduce muscle strength and may even harm the immune system.[1] Furthermore, testing conducted by the FDA found that triclosan could potentially alter thyroid function and reproductive systems in newborns and even revealed that daily use had equivalent responses in pregnant users as drinking alcohol.[2] And while triclosan has been proven fairly effective at killing bacteria, some research suggests that it may be causing mutated bacteria that are able to change their anti-microbial properties, creating new antibiotic-resistant strains.[3]

Triclosan aside, many hand sanitizers rely on heavy synthetic fragrances to mask the “chemical” smell coming from its harsh ingredients. Manufacturing companies are not required to reveal which ingredients are in their fragrance, so essentially they can use harmful chemicals and you’d never know it.[3]

Study after study continually reveals that nothing beats good old-fashioned hand washing with soap and water. According to Dr. Anna Bowen, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Triclosan-containing products don’t provide any disease protection beyond what you get from washing with soap and water.”

But sometimes access to soap and water is limited, like at a fair, parade, park, beach, and other public places. It’s obviously time for something new; risking your family’s long-term health isn’t worth preventing an occasional flu bug. Fortunately, alternatives to synthetic hand sanitizers, such as essential oils, are now becoming more commonly used.

Many naturally-occurring essential oils have antimicrobial properties. Tea tree, myrrh, and clove have been used for hundreds of years as topical antiseptics.[4] Cinnamon oil has one of the widest ranges of antibacterial properties, while balsam and red thyme have been shown to effectively kill the bacteria P. aeruginosa.[5] Cinnamon, clove, and orange oils have shown significant inhibitory effects, even at low concentrations, and it is even believed that orange oil can eradicate certain pathogens.[5]

Use this simple recipe to create your own hand sanitizer alternative:

  • 10 or so drops of your favorite essential oil blend (opt for ingredients like those previously mentioned that have known antibacterial properties)
  • 1 tablespoon witch hazel
  • 8 ounces 100% pure Aloe Vera gel
  • ¼ teaspoon vitamin E oil (for moisture!)

Here’s to clean hands that don’t disrupt your hormonal system and thyroid function and keeping your family safe from harmful bacteria!


[1] Barnett, B. (2013). Is hand sanitizer safe? Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/16/health/hand-sanitizer-toxic-upwave/

[2] Edney, A. (2015). FDA seeks safety dada on hand-sanitizer use by health-care staff. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-30/fda-seeks-safety-data-on-hand-sanitizer-use-by-health-care-staff

[3] Kurumi, F. (20104). 5 hidden dangers of hand sanitizers. Retrieved from http://www.thestreet.com/story/12966410/3/5-hidden-dangers-of-hand-sanitizers.html

[4] Hammer, K.A., Carson, C.F., & Riley, T.V. (2001). Antimicrobial activity of essential oils and other plant extracts. Journal of Applied Microbiology. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2672.1999.00780.x/full

[5] Kavanaugh, N.L. & Ribbeck, K. (2012). Selected antimicrobial essential oils eradicate pseudomonas spp. and Staphylococcus aureus. Applied environmental microbiology. Retrieved from http://aem.asm.org/content/78/11/4057.full

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