I recently had a short stay in the hospital. While I was there, a nurse asked what I do. I vaguely remember telling her that I write about organic beauty and wellness through the gas induced fog. What I thought was just a way to keep me talking while I passed out apparently resonated with this nurse.
Once I came to, she had questions for me. In particular, what I thought of the hand sanitizer these hard working gals and guys use every day, countless times.
This health savvy nurse was concerned about the alcohol and other nasty ingredients in the sanitizer. Since hospital personnel all use that squirty foam each time they enter a room, that is huge daily exposure. And you know what we organic beauty advocates like to say about exposure.
While it sucks that these professionals pretty much have to use this chemical cocktail in such large quantities, it is good to hear that some of them are thinking about it and looking for ways to use healthier products.
So, how bad is conventional hand sanitizer? Let us take a look…
Alcohol is the main ingredient in most hand sanitizers. No surprise there.
Yes, it is drying and can be too harsh for most skin types. Definitely not an ingredient to be overused. But what about its safety? As in, does it cause DNA damage, cancer, birth defects or any of the other major health concerns we worry about?
There are different types of alcohol, but ethanol is the one commonly used in hand sanitizers and other personal care products, like spray deodorants and bug repellent. Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is the same thing as drinking alcohol but, when used in cosmetics, is denatured (made undrinkable).
Ethanol has been found to act as a skin penetration enhancer. Meaning it allows other chemicals to more easily enter your body. So if there is a bunch of nasty junk in that hand sanitizer you are using, like synthetic emollients and fragrance, they are getting sent express mail into your system.
Then there is the contamination factor. Low quality and brands who are not committed to safety may be using ethanol that contains contaminants, which could cause damage when they enter the body and mix with other chemicals.
That is the shortened version of the potential detriments of using ethanol topically. This post would be a mile long if I went into full detail, so take a look at this study on topical use of ethanol for the full deets. Like the study says, the “very high use” of ethanol could cause toxic effects but in the case of hospital workers, benefits to patients greatly outweigh the risks.
The bottom line as I see it? Using a hand san that is made with the cleanest ingredients possible is the safest choice. Choose products made with ethanol that is organic and GMO free, and other natural ingredients. I would wager that hospital variety hand sanitizer contains triclosan, a heavy duty antibacterial that the rest of us do not need to use on a regular basis.
So, what to buy? I like EO Products Hand Sanitizers. These guys have been making hand san forever, have a giant selection, and their products smell dandy. Another I’ve been carrying around is The Honest Company Hand Sanitizer Spray, which you can pick up at Target.
Wish I had better news for nurses and hospital personnel. But hey, keep speaking up and asking questions! Let the industry know about your concerns. Maybe someday that foam will be made with cleaner ingredients.