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Health 10 July 2020
By: Natasha Tanga

Does Using Hand Sanitizer Impose Significant Health Risks?


The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly elevated health protocols in various places, including workplaces, shopping malls, and other public premises. Some of them includes mandatory mask wear, body temperature screening, as well as washing or sanitizing one's hands before entering said premise. However, there are definitely certain feats to this new normal situation, including side effects of wearing masks for extended period of time, as well as using hand sanitizer instead of just washing hands with running water and soap. On this week's journal, we will be discussing the latter, as numerous concerns have been raised towards the usage of hand sanitizers and its effect to your health. Read on!

1. Less effective than hand washing

Handwashing is a crucial part of our daily lives. Not just as a precaution from spreading bacteria and viruses, but also to prevent health issues arising from unsanitary conditions. Any soap, not just hand soap, works well to lift off oil, dirt, and kills germs on your hands. Several studies have shown that washing hands with soap and water is more effective compared to hand sanitizing, especially when using hand sanitizers that contains less than 60% alcohol content. 

Even though it's convenient, hand sanitizers can't be a replacement for washing your hands; it's mainly just a temporary stand-in when you don't have access to soap and water. Also be reminded to use ones that contain at least 60% of alcohol to effectively kill germs and viruses.

2. Could affect the state of bacteria

While it can help kill off viruses and other unwanted microbes, prolonged usage of hand sanitizer can actually destroy beneficial bacteria that reside on our skin. Just as in our gut, balance of good and bad bacteria is what makes our health in check. Therefore, both bacterial colonies, good and bad, are needed. 

Secondly, hand sanitizer usage may also cause microbial resistance and reduced ability to be killed off by it. This can pose serious threat as hand sanitizing may no longer be effective without you knowing it and cause further harm for health.

3. Increased risk of alcohol poisoning

Even though usage of hand sanitizers with at least 60% of alcohol content is preferred, improper use of it may also increase poisoning risk. This applies especially for children. Alcohol poisoning, even is small doses, may cause dizziness, headache, slurred speech, and even brain damage when ingested. Therefore, always supervise use of hand sanitizer on children. Only use a small amount so it can evaporate quickly. Also, make sure to let it completely dry before touching food.

4. Concerns about certain ingredients

During this pandemic, cleanliness has always been a top priority in everyone's mind, leading to frequent hand washing and hand sanitizing. However, you also need to be aware of some of the ingredients on these chemicals that are used in the process. 

Some researchers have expressed concerns about some of the ingredients used in hand sanitizers, like triclosan. As an antibacterial agent used widely in health and beauty products, some scientific studies raise questions about the chemical's potential to disrupt the endocrine system and may cause cancer in the long run.

5. Drying for the skin

While the high alcohol content in hand sanitizer helps kill off germs and viruses more effectively, it can equally strip off the skin's natural oil, thus drying out the skin easily. This, in turn, can make people more prone to develop severely dry skin and dermatitis in the long run. For some people, this might go as far as getting cracked skin, which put them at higher risk of getting bacteria or virus into the body.

Therefore, it is recommended to always opt for hand washing with running water and soap, and reserve hand sanitizers for moments when you can't find them. To reduce dry skin and dermatitis risk, you can also lather up on hand cream or lotions to further hydrate your skin.