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    What You Should Know About Hand Sanitizers and Your Health

    by Janelle Sorensen

    Are you carrying around hand sanitizer yet? During cold and flu season, especially during these days of pandemic flu, it’s a smart, preventive tool to protect your health. But, what exactly is it? Are there any risks you should be aware of? Are some options safer than others? Read on to find out.

    Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers
    Most hand sanitizers are made from 60-90% ethyl alcohol (to be effective, the alcohol content must be over 60%.) Ethyl alcohol is an anti-microbial that’s been recommended as a hand sanitizer for over 100 years and it’s preferable to other alcohols because it doesn’t dry out skin as badly.

    Should you worry about applying alcohol to your skin? When used as directed, the alcohol in hand sanitizers poses no risk. What’s absorbed into the blood is comparable to a tiny sip of wine and you don’t have to worry about residue on your skin because it evaporates within seconds of drying. However, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can pose a serious poisoning issue to children under 6 if they ingest it. To be safe, hand sanitizers should be stored out of children’s reach and used only with supervision.

    In addition to alcohol, hand sanitizers can include:

    • Glycerin – speeds repair of the skin’s protective barrier
    • Isopropyl Myristate – facilitates absorption
    • Dimethicone – reduces sanitizer’s greasy feeling
    • Aloe vera gel – soothes skin
    • Propylene glycol – antifungal
    • Tocopheryl Acetate – acts as an antioxidant and moisturizer
    • Triethanolamine – helps maintain pH of the product
    • Carbomers – thickeners
    • Aminomethyl Propanol – adjusts acidity
    • Fragrances – make it smell nice. (But, fragrance mixtures are considered proprietary and manufacturers are not required to disclose what’s in them. Approximately 1/3 of the 3,000 most common fragrances are allergens, asthmagens or respiratory irritants. Fragrances are also often where hormone disrupting phthalates hide.)

    Alcohol is a serious microbial that wipes out germs and doesn’t give them an opportunity to build up a resistance, but read your labels to find out if there are any extra ingredients you don’t approve of. Here are some options to check out:

    Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizers:

    Some alcohol-free hand sanitizers rely instead on the antibacterial properties of chemicals like Triclosan and Benzalknonium Chloride. Ironically, both of these chemicals have promoted the growth of antibacterial-resistant strains of bacteria. In addition, they are both rated as a high hazard in the Cosmetics Safety Database. Instead, look into some of these options that rely on all natural ingredients with antimicrobial properties.

    Make Your Own?
    The question with making your own is if you feel confident it’s going to be effective. It’s the case with some natural brands, too – there haven’t been conclusive studies demonstrating their efficacy as hand sanitizers. But, even the claims that alcohol-based products kill up to 99.9% of germs is also a bit flawed (the tests were done on inanimate objects and not actual hands). Do your research, assess your needs, and make an informed choice.

    If you decide to make your own, consider this recipe from Melissa Breyer of

    “Dr. Lawrence D. Rosen, a New Jersey pediatrician who dispenses natural health advice on his blog, recommends his tried-and-true recipe for homemade hand sanitizer called thieves oil. His formula calls for cinnamon bark, lemon oil and eucalyptus. As legend has it, a group of 15th century European perfumers-turned-grave-robbers were able to defend themselves against the demons of bubonic plague (and other assorted bacterial maladies one might encounter while removing jewelery from corpses) by dousing themselves in a blend of essential oils, hence the name “thieves oil.”

    Now there are any number of stories circulating about this legend, and just as many recipes, many of them with a vinegar base. But going on Dr. Rosen’s fail-safe recipe and the proven efficacy of cinnamon oil, I like the formula which includes equal amounts of cinnamon bark, lemon, eucalyptus, clove, and rosemary therapeutic grade essential oils. Mix them with jojoba or olive oil as a carrier, and use on hands as a sanitizer. (Note: pure essential oils can be very potent; it’s important to test some on a small patch of skin to check for any adverse reactions.)”

    How to Use Hand Sanitizers Effectively
    Just with any soap or cleanser, it only does the job if you do it right.

    How much should you use? Vigorously rub all sides of your hands with enough product to get them wet, and rub them together until they are dry. According to the C.D.C. guidelines for alcohol-based hand sanitizers, to be most effective, a dime-size dollop of alcohol gel should be rubbed into the hands for 30 seconds. For other hand sanitizers, you may need to contact the manufacturer to find out how to properly use the product.

    Keep in mind that washing your hands is the best bet. Hand sanitizers don’t cut through dirt and grime well, so soiled hands should be washed first if the sanitizer is to be effective. And, if you have access to wash your hands, you don’t really need a hand sanitizer (except in isolated situations). If you’re on the go and you know you wo
    n’t be near a sink (especially with young kids whose hands are bound to get dirty) – you may want to bring wipes and a hand sanitizer. Then you can wipe the dirt and grime off before applying the sanitizer.

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