Raise your hand if you’re lucky enough to own a bottle of hand sanitizer. Just one problem: There’s a good chance that hand is dry and cracked. Hand sanitizers come with certain side effects that can affect your skin and more. We asked the top professionals about how to minimize the pain. Read on to learn how to stay safe.
It Can Increase Your Risk of Eczema
To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the CDC recommends washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if they are not available, using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Following that advice is essential, but “increased contact with irritants and allergens may increase the risk of hand dermatitis or ‘eczema.’ This commonly manifests on the skin with redness, dryness, cracks, and even blisters that cause itch or pain,” Caroline Nelson, M.D. a Yale Medicine dermatologist and instructor at Yale School of Medicine, tells Eat This, Not That! Health.
The Rx: “It’s important to not overdo the sanitizer and to moisturize after every use,” advises dermatologist Peterson Pierre, M.D., of the Pierre Skin Care Institute.
“Using a moisturizer, ideally containing mineral oil or petrolatum, can help prevent hand dermatitis. While moisturizer should be applied immediately after hand washing, this is not the case when using a hand sanitizer. Individuals should rub their hands together for about 15-30 seconds covering all surfaces with hand sanitizer until the hands are dry, and then apply a moisturizer,” says Dr. Nelson.
It Can Irritate Your Skin
“Hand sanitizers are antiseptic products—they are formulated to disinfect the skin,” says Vanessa Thomas, a cosmetic chemist, and founder of Freelance Formulations. “The primary disinfecting ingredient in hand sanitizer formulas is ethyl or isopropyl alcohol, and they are formulated along with thickeners softeners and sometimes fragrances to curtail the strong smell of alcohol. Frequent use of it can cause skin irritation, or dry out the skin. If you have sensitive skin, the effects can be worse. The drying out is caused by alcohol.”
The Rx: “Washing hands with warm water and soap are the best way to kill any germs, but there are times when you don’t have access to a sink and soap,” says Thomas. “If you cannot minimize your hand sanitizer use, a good idea is to follow up with a moisturizing regimen. Dry skin is caused by a lack of water content in the skin. A moisturizer with humectants and occlusives is best. Occlusives help to create a film over the skin to hold the moisture in, and humectants (hyaluronic acid is an example of one) help to attract water to the skin.”
Some Formulations Can Affect Fertility
“Some hand sanitizers are composed of alcohol, such as ethyl alcohol, as an active ingredient that functions as an antiseptic,” says Dr. Chris Norris, a chartered physiotherapist and neurologist and Clinical Associate Professor at The University of California, of sleepstandards.com. “However, there are some non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers that consist of an antibiotic compound called triclosan or triclocarban. Several research studies have reported that triclosan is a health hazard as its overuse has negative effects on fertility, fetal development, and rates of asthma,”
The Rx: “It is always recommended to wash hands with water and soap to completely eradicate the germs. Use sanitizers only when water and soap are not available,” says Dr. Norris. Avoid ones with triclosan or triclocarban.
Some Might Cause a Resistance to Antibiotics
“Exposure to triclosan increases the likelihood of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics,” says Dr. Norris. Again, find one without triclosan.
Some May Cause Hormone Problems
“According to the FDA, triclosan present in a hand sanitizer also causes hormone problems. This causes the bacteria to adapt to its antimicrobial properties, which creates more antibiotic-resistant strains,” says Dr. Norris.
Some Affect Your Immune System
“Triclosan also weakens the human immune function. The weakened immune system makes people more susceptible to allergies,” says Dr. Norris.
Some Can Impact Your Body Development
“A hand sanitizer that has too much fragrance could be loaded with toxic chemicals like phthalates and parabens. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that can affect human body development and reproduction. Parabens are chemicals that can negatively affect the functioning of hormones, fertility, birth outcomes, and reproductive development,” says Dr. Norris.
The Rx: Find a phthalate and paraben-free hand sanitizer.
You Could Get a Skin Disorder
“The overuse of alcohol-based hand sanitizers to safeguard against the germs and infection-causing pathogens could inversely increase the risk of infection via skin disorders. Overdoing may remove benign bacteria on the skin that is not good,” says Dr. Norris.
The Rx: “Unlike hand sanitizer, soap and water can effectively remove dirt, grime and eliminate pesticides and other chemical residues that are lingering on your hands,” says Dr. Norris.
It Could Lead to Alcohol Poisoning
As many hand sanitizers contain very high levels of alcohol, doctors witness cases of alcohol poisoning when it’s imbibed. “Since hand sanitizers are easily available, there have been many cases globally where teenagers were hospitalized with alcohol poisoning from consuming hand sanitizer,” says Dr. Norris.
The Rx: Do not drink it! Keep it away from your kids and educate your teens. Call 911 immediately if you swallow hand sanitizer.
Final Thoughts From the Doctors
“Hand sanitizers are a good alternative to reduce potentially infectious microbial load—such as viruses, bacteria, fungus—on the hands or skin, if soap and water is not immediately available,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, in private practice at SkinSafe Dermatology. But remember: “They do not remove physical dirt/ grime/mucus, and so, are not meant to physically wash your hands,”
“Hand sanitizer is not as good as soap,” warns Dr. Norris. “Relying on hand sanitizers to keep hands clean may not be your best strategy,” Call your doctor for more advice about the side effects of hand sanitizer. You may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088 or at www.fda.gov/medwatch.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.