Are Hand Sanitizers Actually Helpful?

by Winnie Wang on March 25, 2014

Hanging off a backpack, outside a lecture hall, inside the dining hall, hand sanitizers are everywhere. Americans have spent over $175 million on hand sanitizers, but are they actually worth it? There is research that shows the benefits found through the use of hand sanitizers. They can lower the number of sick days, lower illnesses among students, and lower rates of GI infections. However, new studies have shown that humans have been using the sanitizers in the wrong way and there may be potential health risks from applying hand sanitizer.

Hand sanitizers are a form of alcohol, generally ethyl alcohol. It’s used as an antiseptic, something that is applied to skin to reduce the chance of infection. According to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is a type of hand sanitizer that actually RAISES bacteria count. It’s mainly because the product contained only 40 percent alcohol. Ones with 60 percent alcohol concentration are the most ideal and most effective at killing the bacteria on hands. However, the sanitizers aren’t capable of killing all the bacteria. Although the bottles may say that they kill 99.9% of the germs, it’s only 99.9% of a certain group of microbes. They don’t actually kill EVERYTHING; sometimes they may even kill off some good germs. One of the more difficult germs to get rid of is the bug, Clostridium difficile; it is a cause of diarrhea and is reported to kill about 14,000 Americans a year. A 2011 CDC study showed that the staff in long-term care facilities who used hand sanitizers were six times more likely to have a norovirus outbreak than those who washed hands with soap and water. Also, there isn’t much evidence that sanitizers help prevent colds and the flu. In a study at the University of Virginia, it was found that those who used hand sanitizers had no significant drop in the flu compared to those who didn’t use them.

Another major concern about hand sanitizers is its harm to the body. In 2012, a study showed that the antibacterial chemical triclosan hindered the heart muscles’ ability to contract and caused a great reduction in its abilities to function. In addition, hand sanitizers should be kept away from children. On the back of most bottles, there is warning to keep it away from children. Since children literally put anything in their mouths, ingesting the alcohol is very likely and can be very harmful! There have been a number of reports where alcohol poisoning was found in children with sanitizers. Another reason for children not to use hand sanitizers is that it can lower the ability of their immune system. Environments that are too clean can actually lower a child’s defense system and cause a weak immune system when they are older.

Have you ever loved the sweet smell of sanitizers? It is mainly due to a compound called phthalates. These compounds can easily get into our food and then into our body. These compounds have been found to cause breast cancer and disrupt the endocrine system. Sometimes it may even combine with other chemicals and cause other effects to the body. Hand sanitizers can also damage your skin; it may make it rougher than normal. Although you may feel that your hands are so clean after using hand sanitizer, it’s not true. There is always left over germs and bacteria. Have you ever tried cleaning your hands with hand sanitizer after eating a bag of chips? That doesn’t help at all! Sometimes, you might just lick your fingers but what if you used hand sanitizer to clean your hands before eating those chips? Then you would ingest hand sanitizer alcohol!

Just remember: “Sanitizers may help, but they are not a substitute for hand washing with soap and water”.


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