Hand Sanitizer Dangers

Reader Contribution by Tom Vick
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Keeping a bottle of hand sanitizer at the ready can come in handy in situations where you can’t access soap and water, but using it too often can come with some risks. Consider the following hand sanitizer dangers and make sure your hand sanitizer ingredients are safe and non-toxic.

Soap vs. Sanitizer

Most doctors and researchers agree: soap wins hands-down over hand sanitizer. Cleaning with soap and water is better at reducing germs than hand sanitizer, and hand sanitizer cannot be used effectively in many situations. If your hands are visibly dirty or greasy, hand sanitizer just does not work.[1] It is designed to kill bacteria, but doesn’t remove dirt and debris, which is often how toxins and infections are spread. When washing your hands, the ingredients used are rinsed off immediately, as opposed to hand sanitizers, which can be absorbed through the skin.

Harmful Hand Sanitizer Ingredients

While we want to keep our hands clean, we don’t necessarily need antibacterial hand sanitizer or hand soap. Many products that are labeled “antibacterial” contain chemicals that are detrimental to our health.

Triclosan, a commonly used agent, is an endocrine disruptor that interferes with the proper functioning of vital hormones like thyroid hormones.[2] It is linked to detrimental effects on the nervous system, and is linked to allergies and asthma.[3] Beyond its direct effect on your health, it may also contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Triclosan can be absorbed through the skin and has been found in the urine of 75 percent of Americans sampled.[2] But for all of that risk, there’s not even sufficient evidence showing that it is effective.[2] The FDA is working to review the research on triclosan and has concluded that it is no more effective than regular soap and water at removing bacteria and provides no additional benefits.[4] However, it may take time to remove this ingredient from products on the market, so check labels to make sure you’re not exposing yourself to it.

Beware of Fragrance

Many hand sanitizers also list “fragrance” as an ingredient. This term can mask a long list of potentially harmful chemicals, including phthalates. Phthalates are also endocrine-disruptors and affect the activity of estrogen and androgens in our body. Even at low concentrations, phthalates are associated with detrimental effects on the development of the male reproductive system as well as increased risk of breast cancer.[5]

How to Safely and Effectively Keep Your Hands Clean

Washing your hands often with warm soap and water is your best bet when it comes to keeping your hands clean and minimizing your exposure to harmful bacteria and viruses. Most of us do not wash our hands long enough: You should scrub continuously for 20 to 30 seconds with warm water and dry your hands afterwards.

Use hand sanitizer only when you have no option to wash your hands with soap and water. Remember that it will not work when your hands are visibly dirty. To use correctly, apply the amount directed on the bottle, and be sure to rub your hands vigorously until it dries completely.

Don’t sweat it if your hands aren’t completely clean all of the time. Some researchers believe that the human immune system needs to be exposed to bacteria to develop properly.[3] There is even some speculation that the rising incidence of autoimmune and allergic diseases in certain populations are associated with widespread use of antibiotics and sanitization practices.[6]

Safer Hand Sanitizer Options

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are useful to have on hand for those rare times you need it, but be sure to reduce your risk of hand sanitizer dangers by reading labels carefully. Safer versions contain only a few, safe ingredients. Try Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lavender Hand Sanitizing Spray, which is organic and contains only ethanol, water, glycerin, and lavender oil. Avoid synthetic fragrance, triclosan, and other harmful hand sanitizer ingredients.


[1] Center for Disease Control. 2013.
[2] J Occup Environ Med. 2014 Aug;56(8):834-9.
[3] Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Mar;119(3):390-6.
[4] FDA Consumer Updates. 2013.
[5] Climacteric. 2014 Aug;17(4):377-84.
[6] Clin Exp Immunol. 2010 Apr;160(1):1-9.

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