Prior to Miss Moo’s birth, I thoroughly stocked our then townhouse with hand sanitizer. She was born during the H1N1 flu season and the hospital attached to our birth center encouraged us to hand sanitize and had managed to terrify us about that strain of flu beyond belief. As the flu season carried on and no one we knew got sick, I began to relax about the plastic bottles stationed around the house and pondered exactly what slathering my hands with their contents was doing to us.
So, what’s in the stuff anyway?
Most hand sanitizers are essentially hand soap diluted in a large amount of alcohol – somewhere between 60 and 90 percent depending on the brand and size of the bottle. An alcohol content that large can lead to serious health hazards, particularly for children; levels that high can easily cause alcohol poisoning. Small children are at greater risk due to their size and propensity to place toys and their hands in their mouths.
Having the bottles accessible to children also pose threats. Many are brightly colored and scented to please the user and in turn, interested little hands grab them to use in play. Using hand sanitizers frequently with children may mean they have no fear of it as a chemical and feel they can responsibly use it in correct amounts. Amounts over the size of a pea could lead to alcohol poisoning in young children. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include nausea, dizziness, and headaches. Alcohol poisoning is a serious condition that must be treated to immediately to avoid long-term health effects.
Many hand sanitizers also contain the chemical Triclosan. Triclosan is very concerning because it has been found in some studies to disrupt the function of the endocrine system. The endocrine system is the system of glands in the body that secrete hormones into the bloodstream to regulate the body. Studies have been so conclusive, in fact, that the FDA decided to take a closer look at the lasting effects on this chemical and our health. Triclosan has also been found in breast milk, umbilical cord blood, and is classified by the EPA as a pesticide, but is still cleared for use in hand sanitizers.
Are There Any Other Dangers?
- Fire Hazards – Due to the high alcohol content, hand sanitizers are extremely flammable.
- Overuse – Many people have come to rely on the use of hand sanitizers for convenience and simplicity and skip washing hands altogether. Nothing can replace washing your hands.
- Antibiotic-resistant bacteria – Although debated, many health professionals feel that the overuse of hand sanitizers has led to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Studies have yielded results indicating that overuse of hand sanitizers in care facilities has lead to high levels of Norovirus outbreaks.
So What CAN I Use to Hand Sanitize?
It’s imperative to remember that NOTHING can replace washing your hands with soap. However, if you are in a position where you can’t find a sink and soap, you can do a few things to clean things up without using hand sanitizers.
Carry a “wash” with you. – Keep a small spray bottle with a water/soap solution in your bag, diaper bag, or backpack with a dry washcloth. Spritz your hands, rub them together, and then dry them off.
Cloth Wipes. – We keep a box of cloth wipes in our house at all times that can easily be thrown in the van. I use standard “infant” washcloths with a mixture of 1T baby wash, 1T olive oil, 1/2T white vinegar(helps prevent yeast/rash), and 1C hot water poured over them. These work as a great clean up wipe for any mess or hands and can be used just as easily as a little bottle of sanitizer.
Find What Works For You
You may find that a carrying wipes or a spritzer may seem cumbersome at first, so experiment and see what works. You may find that small spray bottles in your car or 3-4 washcloths stored in a wet bag help out in a pinch. Don”t hesitate to do your own research and try new things. Just be informed and care for yourself and your family during flu season.
Do you use hand sanitizer? What tricks do you have to staying clean on the go?
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