Thursday, August 7, 2014

Stop Sanitizing! Why Hand Sanitizer is Dangerous

Hand sanitizer has been on the rise the last few years: showing up in bathrooms, schools, parks, airports, and more. While it’s great that we’re pushing for good hygiene and cleanliness, it is possible to take it too far.

It’s true that hand sanitizer will kill most of the bacteria on your hands – up to 99.9%. But it will not clean away any visible dirt or grime, and it kills both bad and good bacteria. (There’s such a thing as good bacteria?!) Experts still say that washing with soap and water (and rubbing your hands together for a good length of time – try singing the ABCs) is always the best option – especially if your hands are visibly dirty. Hand sanitizer should only be used if you cannot get to a sink. (So if you’re in a restaurant, don’t just whip out the little bottle of sanitizer. Make the short trip to the bathroom and do the job right).
It's always better to just wash your hands with soap and water.

Studies show that kids that grow up in less tidy environments end up with a lower risk of having allergies, illnesses, and asthma. Keeping your environment too clean (who knew there was such a thing?!), by using too many bacterial soaps and sanitizers, for example, can lead to your immune system becoming more sensitized to allergens and irritants. Dr. Richard Gallo of the University of California, San Diego says, “Being too clean can lead you to have a high allergic set point that will overreact to the environment.” If you over-wash your hands and continually strip them of all germs (by using hand sanitizer), then you will be hurting your immune system, which actually uses germs to build up its strength. You have to be exposed to germs in order to build up immunity to them.

Most hand sanitizers are alcohol-based and contain 60% alcohol or more. Most beer contains only 5% alcohol, and whiskey only 40%. If you were to ingest a small 2-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer, that would be equivalent to doing four shots of hard liquor. In fact, there have been cases of young children being sent to the emergency room for lethargy, slurred speech, and worrisome behavior due to an unknown cause. They then discover that their blood alcohol level is startlingly high and realize it’s because they licked their hands after having hand sanitizer put on (or they ingested some straight out of the bottle). So never apply a sweet-smelling hand sanitizer to your young child’s hands as it will just tempt them to give it a taste.

Never use a sweet-smelling sanitizer on a young child. They may be tempted to lick their hands or worse, drink it out of the bottle.

Alcohol-free hand sanitizers are hardly any better. Most of those contain an ingredient called Triclosan, which has been shown in animal studies to reduce muscle strength and disrupt the endocrine system. (At this time, it is unknown if these findings add up to human toxicity, but the FDA is currently reviewing the issue). Triclosan also breaks down rapidly when exposed to chlorinated water and produces toxic chemicals, including chloroform. Lastly, when bacteria are exposed to Triclosan, it elicits antibiotic resistance, meaning that over time, bacteria can develop a resistance to many types of antibiotics. And then hand sanitizer will no longer be effective.

The safety of an ingredient in alcohol-free sanitizers is dubious. Steer clear of it, just in case.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recommends that hand sanitizers be kept out of reach of children, that children be supervised when using it, and that hand sanitizer should not be used on children under 2 years old.

So please, don’t routinely wipe your baby down with hand sanitizer. I myself know a handful of kids who were practically bathed in the stuff as infants, and today suffer from an absurd amount of allergies and are constantly in and out of the doctor’s office due to illness. It may seem like you are keeping your little one clean, but you may be doing more harm than good.
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