- It’s the year 2021. You have been using hand sanitizer religiously for 18 months.
- But is that fresh-smelling, alcohol-based formula actually altering your pH levels?
- Is there such a thing as too much hand sanitizer, and is it decreasing your ability to fend off germs in the future?
While the newness of the pandemic wanes and people begin to incorporate lesser obsessive behaviors into their regular routine, some questions have been raised. In preventing disease and illness spread by bacteria short-term, we relied heavily on hand sanitizer. In fact, we relied so heavily on it, that distilleries and manufacturers the world around switched over to formulating their own hand sanitizers to meet the growing need. Entire households often had only hand sanitizer to rely on, as detergents, cleaning agents, and simple hand soaps were quickly snatched up in a rat race for germ killing options.
Now, with sanitizers back in abundance and people beginning to shape their routine for a more sustainable type of cleanliness, the question remains. Does using hand sanitizer all the time mean we will be less resistant to a broad range of viruses since we no longer let ourselves get exposed to them to develop natural immunity? Is there such a thing as “too much hand sanitizer” and are we, in effect, creating superbugs by using it all the time?
A chemical found in sanitizers could decrease resistance to viruses.
Triclosan – a chemical ingredient used in limited cleansing products to prevent bacterial contamination – is found far more frequently in antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, and cosmetics than in hand sanitizers, but carries with some concern. Triclosan is also considered an endocrine disruptor, as people exposed to it frequently encounter hormone fluctuations.
The good news? The majority of consumer hand sanitizers currently sold in America use ethyl alcohol as a base, and do not contain Triclosan. In fact, retailers have all but stopped selling this product with Triclosan in it. Be that as it may, it is always worth it to check your labels before purchasing a new skincare item.
Several bacteria strains have adjusted to alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
While hospitals around the world started to incorporate hand sanitizing stations in their wards and waiting rooms in the aughts, targeted infections did decrease. However, a specific host of enterococcal infections spiked globally as a result. According to NPR, “Globally, enterococci make up ten percent of bacterial infections acquired in the hospital. In North America and Europe, they are a leading cause of sepsis, a deadly blood infection.”
Recent research confirmed what we had all been afraid of, that some strains of bacteria are becoming more tolerant of – and developing the ability to survive longer in – alcohol. Lance Price, a professor at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health and the founding director of GW’s Antibiotic Resistance Action Center, admits, “I always thought of alcohol as being like a sledgehammer. But clearly, these are innovative organisms. And evolution happens pretty fast when you’re dealing with populations that can double every 30 minutes and travel in packs of billions.”
To increase your chances of killing – instead of damaging and mutating – bacteria, be sure to apply hand sanitizer like you do hand lotion. Effectively cover the front and back of both of your hands, and wiggle the solution up your forearms if you can.
Washing your hands is still king.
As long as you aren’t using hand sanitizers as a complete replacement to thoroughly washing your hands several times a day, the germ-fighting effects should permeate. As with anything, you simply cannot expect hand sanitizer to be a cure-all. Alcohol-based sanitizers, however, have the most cleansing power. And even though most hand sanitizers that adequately fight germs are made up of 60-95% alcohol, that still leaves plenty of room for a margin of error. Applying a couple of pumps of Purell to your hands may kill or damage a percentage of the bacteria, but anything that survives can feed off of the sugars and proteins that exist on your hands. In order to completely eradicate the remaining bacteria, a proper hand washing is necessary.
Our key takeaway? Everything in moderation. Where sometimes – say, on-the-go – we are definitely hand sanitizer people, hand washing happens a lot more in the home environment. And it should. It is the most effective way to battle norovirus, or the stomach flu, among many other types of bacteria.
While cracked hands are now a reality year-round, we can probably reduce the amount of damage caused by increased hand soap usage by using hand lotion, or using sanitizers with added aloe. After all, even when you’re trying to find a gentle solution, active ingredients and other agents could strip the skin of its natural moisture.
Remember to monitor the heat of the water you wash your hands with. While we have been conditioned to believe “the hotter the better,” it is actually very detrimental to your skin’s barrier to be exposed to scalding hot temperatures. Before you notice your cheeks turning red from the temperature, beads of sweat, or another warning sign that you may be hot, exposure to heat could already be completely destroying the collagen and elastin in your dermis. Heat works in the same way that many free radicals do, damaging skin at an alarming rate.
If you are experiencing chapped or dry hands as a result of frequent washing, remember that mild, fragrance-free soaps are preferable, as well as hand sanitizers with added aloe or other skin-soothing ingredients. Washing with warm water instead of hot water can help reduce the amount of oils that are stripped from your hands during washing. Always pat your hands dry with a towel, so that your skin can soak in the hydration it can. Applying a moisturizer relatively immediately – especially if your hands are still damp – will also help your hands experience relief.