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Debra wrote a guest post this week in response to a friend who asked her what hand sanitizer to use to protect against the coronavirus.  I wanted to build on the topic a bit more because this has been on my mind recently.  I spent many years when my children were young trying to avoid hand sanitizer; it was everywhere, from super-sized bottles in the classroom to miniature tubes swinging from backpacks.  I told my kids to politely refuse but to instead wash their hands…a lot.  I surprised them a couple of weeks ago when I passed them a bottle while we were flying home from vacation.  Given the rapid spread of the virus, I’m following the CDC’s recommendation to use a hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available.


Fortunately, you don’t need harsh chemicals to protect yourself.  Follow these preventative actions and learn more about the CDC’s guidance to create a household plan.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. According to the FDA, it doesn’t matter what soap you use.  Antibacterial soaps have not been proven to work any better than regular soap.  My favorite non-toxic brand is Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soap.
  • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces using regular household detergent.
  • Clean your phone! Apple recommends cleaning the surface with a soft, lint-free cloth and warm soapy water but warns against getting moisture in the openings.


Which Hand Sanitizers are Best?


Ideally, you want a hand sanitizer that includes the CDC’s recommended 60% or higher alcohol content but does not include unnecessary, harmful chemicals.  Fortunately, in 2019 the FDA banned 28 active ingredients for hand sanitizers, including triclosan and benzethonium chloride.   Here are some additional ingredients to avoid:


  • Benzalkonium chloride is a biocide, preservative and surfactant that is associated with severe skin, eye and respiratory irritation and allergies. It is currently being reviewed by the FDA to determine if it is safe and effective for use in hand sanitizers.  It’s restricted for use in cosmetics in Canada and Japan.
  • Fragrance as an ingredient can be a mix of undisclosed chemicals including phthalates. These mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.
  • Color Additives, labeled as FD&C or D&C followed by a color name and number, are sometimes made from petroleum and some may contain heavy metals. Some synthetic colors can be carcinogenic.
  • Parabens mimic estrogen and can act as hormone disrupters.


Here are some non-toxic hand sanitizers (EWG rated 2 or better) that also have at least 60% alcohol:


Why is Hand Sanitizer Not Good for Long Term Use?


Not only are hand sanitizers not as effective as hand washing, they have health risks when used frequently. Here are some risks:

  • Regular use of antimicrobials such as benzalkonium chloride can lead to the development of resistant bacteria.
  • Ethyl alcohol, which is the active ingredient in most hand sanitizers, and isopropyl alcohol are being evaluated by the FDA to determine if they are safe and effective for use in hand sanitizers. Alcohol can be drying and irritating to the skin.  It can strip the skin’s natural barrier, leaving it more vulnerable to attack from irritants, allergens, bacteria and viruses.

I plan to only use hand sanitizers during periods when there is a  high risk of infection.


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