7 Reasons Why You Should Avoid Hand Sanitizers

hand sanitizer

It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have hand sanitizer. Instead, every time our hands got dirty, we headed for the nearest sink. If there wasn’t one around—well, a quick wipe on the jeans would do.

Then, in the 1990s, hand sanitizer started to become popular. Suddenly, we had a quick, on-the-go way to banish germs. Since we were all really into getting things done fast by that time—and we were obsessed with being germ-free—it seemed the perfect solution.

Germ-free hands in seconds.

On the plane. In the car. At the playground. Before touching the shopping cart. After shaking hands with someone who had a cold. It seemed there was no end to the many ways hand sanitizer could help us stay clean and healthy.

the truth about hand sanitizer

And then came the devastating news…hand sanitizer is actually really unhealthy for us. (Oh, and they’re horrible for your skin, too.) Use them often enough, and you’ll accelerate the appearance of aging.

Why? We’ll explain that below. Meanwhile, don’t think you have to give up on convenient germ-killing, as we have much better options for that, too!

How Does Hand Sanitizer Work?

Hand sanitizers were actually invented by those who work in the medical field. In the hospital, it’s vital to keep hands free of bacteria and viruses, to avoid spreading them from patient to patient. As doctors and nurses are often rushed in their daily activities, hand sanitizers can really come in handy.

It was in the mid 1900s that researchers discovered alcohol (a primary germ killer) could be delivered in a gel to provide quick and easy cleansing when there’s no time or access to soap and warm water.

why hand sanitizers are so intense

Soap and water kill and flush germs from skin. Hand sanitizers, on the other hand, work by sitting on skin and killing germs on contact. They only work, however, if they have enough alcohol to kill the germs—at least 60 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means a lot of alcohol on your skin (which is horrible for its health and appearance, but more on that later).

Once you apply the alcohol, it begins to evaporate, and it’s through this evaporation that germs are killed. If you dry off the sanitizer before it evaporates all the way, you’re actually reducing its effectiveness.

What’s Wrong with Hand Sanitizers?

Though the occasional use of a hand sanitizer isn’t going to hurt you, regular use over time can cause a lot of problems:

1. Dry skin

We told you about the dangers of alcohols in skin care in a previous post. The alcohols used in hand sanitizers include isopropyl, ethanol, and n-propanol. These are the drying alcohols we told you about. They irritate the skin, strip away it’s natural oils and acid mantle, dehydrate cells, and increase risk of contact dermatitis.

2. Accelerated aging

All those drying effects can lead to increased appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as calluses, cracks, and flakiness. Over time, alcohols can disrupt the natural barrier function, reducing skin’s ability to protect itself, and leading to increased dehydration.

3. Damaged skin

Scientific studies have shown that alcohols can actually damage skin cells.

4. Antibiotic resistance

Many hand sanitizers these days are made with triclosan (more about triclosan in this post). This antibacterial has been found in animal studies to disrupt hormone function. It’s also connected to the rise of so-called “superbugs”—bacteria and viruses that can resist antibiotics. The CDC announced in 2013 that the rise of superbugs (as a result of overuse of antibiotics) was a serious threat to human health, and had caused at least 23,000 deaths that year.

5. Unknown chemicals

Many hand sanitizers are made with chemical fragrances. Since manufacturers are not required to list fragrance ingredients on the label, you don’t know what you’re exposing yourself to. Many fragrances are irritating and have been linked to allergies and hormone disruption.

6. Weakened immune system

We think we’re reducing our risk of getting sick when we use hand sanitizers, but they can actually weaken the immune system. Studies have shown that ultra-clean environments—particularly early in life—can contribute to reduced immune defenses later on.

7. They just don’t work as well

The FDA states that currently, there is no evidence that antibacterial soaps (and sanitizers) are any more effective than regular soap and warm water in helping to prevent the spread of germs. A 2000 study found that sanitizers do not significantly reduce the amount of bacteria on the hands, and may actually even increase it. Researchers added that the products strip the skin of its natural oils—and since those oils usually prevent bacteria from coming to the surface, the sanitizer can actually reduce the skin’s own defenses.

Have you stopped using hand sanitizers? Please share your thoughts.

Purdue University. “Hand Sanitizers No Substitue for Soap and Water,” Science Daily, February 21, 2011, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/02/000218061254.htm.

comments (27 and counting)


Reader Interactions


  1. Juliette says

    I recently discovered that D.L. Roope, a nationally used exam company for Barbers, Cosmetologists, Estheticians, and Massage Therapy, require the use of hand sanitizer during the practical exam. Candidates are required to use hand sanitizer after touching anything before touching the client.

    If an esthetician follows this method, she is causing harm to her client’s skin. Not to mention degrading the integrity of skin care products by killing the active ingredients. That means anyone receiving a facial is having hand sanitizer slathered massaged into their skin.

  2. mslady269 says

    I just found out that my 7yr old isn’t allowed to use soap and water when her class goes to the bathroom and they are given hand sanitizer instead. I am livid. This is disgusting and dangerous. She is sick again with a fever this morning and had a bacterial infection before Christmas break and the flu during Christmas. The school is making her sick. Ugh… so now I have to call the school and tell them no more hand sanitizer.

  3. Bonnadee says

    I have never used those hand-sanitizers because they are so bad in many ways. They are very toxic, bad for the environment, worsen sickness, and in many cases, they even perpetuate illnesses. It makes me cringe when I see people freely using those products.

  4. Is says

    Yeah. I haven’t ever used hand sanitizer… for hand washing, especially. Sometimes I use it for cleaning if that’s what’s handy, like at school, for stuck on stains, etc. on the desks or the white board. Schools seem to like to use it for the kids.

  5. Stephanie says

    I stopped using them years ago due to health concerns. However, being a germaphobe, I haven’t given up on “on-the-go” sanitizers: there are FANTASTIC completely natural “tea tree wipes” that I buy at any health food store.

  6. Marsha says

    It never made sense to me how deliberately puting something on your skin that kills living organisms could be healthy. Thanks for the article.

  7. moomoo says

    From the e-mail that linked to this study: “It points out a study that looked at doctor’s skin and how it was affected by daily hand sanitizer use. The results are actually really surprising.”

    Can you tell me where this study is referenced? I’d like to learn more. I’m a doctor and basically forced to use the hand sanitizer and triclosan-rich handsoap in my hospital. Also am mandated to get the flu vaccine.

  8. Susan Russell says

    I still use hand sanitizer S in Hospitals when visiting patients, because of serious infections in them. I prefer natural hand sanitisers, Jurlique and a good Lavender oil one. I saw recently our local shopping trolley guy had gloves on to retrieve trolleys, best idea, trolleys are handled by many people. Keeping hands clean is critical to everyone’s good health!

  9. Lisa says

    EO Everyone hand sanitizer gel is also good. It’s rated a 2 by ewg.org. I love the coconut lemon scent.



  11. Anne says

    While on vacation at Yellowstone National Park, I used the bathroom in the park and found no water, just hand sanitizer. I used it and we continued our sightseeing. A while later, my hands were burning and when we got to the hotel I went to the gift shop to find aloe vera. The woman in the gift shop told me that she had the same reaction after using the sanitizer and going for a horseback ride. She went to the emergency room, the pain was so bad. The doctor told her she had a sunburn which was exacerbated by the hand sanitizer! My hands hurt for days! Lesson learned.

  12. f-s says

    thank you for posting this….I can tell you that I have used a lot of alcohol related products , on my skin etc outside of giving up drinking alcohol (like beer, liquor) and its definitely made my health worse. I will stop, from this point forward using anything with alcohol in it. I have had every health issue you can think of, and lots of mental and physical reactions to my body. Its not fun.

  13. Sunny says

    I make a wonderful one – real easy too! buy a sample size aloe vera gel bottle, when it gets to about 1/2 empty add 100 proof vodka – add your favorite essential oil and shake it up. I love peppermint. Add a capsule /drops of vit e to preserve. People want to buy it off me. & that vodka will kill any self respecting germ….

  14. Stephanie says

    I am an independent distributor for Poofy Organics. We have an organic, alcohol free hand purifier. The website is going through maintenance the next couple of days and may not be available at times. You can contact me through my personal website for more information.

  15. Kristen says

    I reuse my toner bottles from this skin care line to make my own hand sanitizers using essential oils and distilled water. It smells good and I’m reusing a great bottle. I have even made these for gifts.

  16. Sue says

    I also have never used them. My husband is a septic contractor and cautions all of his customers to never use antibacterial products in their homes to preserve the septic systems. He actually sells bacteria for use in those systems as they rely on the bacterial action to function properly.

  17. Cecilia Boldt says

    Don’t worry, gloves do protect one’s hands, with zero adverse effects. I wore them whenever leaving the home, for 9 years when I lived in New York City, from October through March- and never got the ‘flu, only a cold every year- despite taking the subway 2-4x daily! I suppose that the infirm or especially unhealthy individuals might not be so fortunate, but hopefully that doesn’t pertain to anyone reading this.

    And I have used Annmarie’s body wash on many occasions (from my little refillable bottle of her body wash, that I keep with me, to wash my hands- it’s been a Godsend on road trips! I can thus pay no mind to” soap” dispensers in rest stops.

  18. Myriam says

    I never used them as I don’t use products with toxic ingredients and haven’t for the past 20 years which is when I learned of them.

  19. Courtney says

    I had only used hand sanitizer as a last resort in my diaper bag when I had to change a dirty diaper on the go. When my son went to kindergarten they used it on the kids hands multiple times throughout the day. I wasn’t really aware of how often they were using it. One day he told me his hands hurt. I looked to see they were really rough and dry, much like a working man’s hands. We started putting coconut oil on his hands but it just kept getting worse until his knuckles started to crack and bleed. That’s when he told me it was hurting to use the “hanzitizer” at school. A light bulb went off and I knew what was wrong. I sent his teacher a note and told her he couldn’t use it anymore, that he would need to use soap and water. Two weeks later the coconut oil had completely repaired his hands and they looked like little kid hands again! My kids now know to tell their teachers they don’t use that stuff! I’m sure it creates a little frustration, but I try to make up for it in other ways.

  20. Carrie says

    The suggestion of wearing gloves comes at a cost. Hands in gloves sweat, which causes bacterial growth. Be sure to wash when the gloves come off!

  21. Elsie says

    While there may be good things that happen to children who are given clean environments and in homes where there is the financial resources for parents to provide. As a teacher, before I retired, I noticed that children who came from the “Smother Love” homes were often the first to be hit by colds, flu and other “stuff” passed around the class. Also, these children did not often get much time out of doors ” messing around” playing and getting dirty. Actually the children who were allowed to get dirty built up immunity the more “fortunate” children lacked. I am not suggesting we stop cleaning house or washing our children. But, good, healthy getting dirty play followed by good old fashioned hand washing may benefit ! Also, when it was suggested we could save time and trouble by spritz ing the kids’ hands before snack and lunch time instead of taking time for supervised hand washing, I refused to use the hand sanitizes. Hey the dirt was still there and even if the germs were reduced, there was the dirt and the alcohol! I suggest you check about what your child’s school does! I would advise you to request that your child have access to warm water and soap!

  22. Tahnny says

    I’m a nurse and have refused to use these. They are pushed relentlessly by employers and most nurses I know do use them probably up to a fifty times a shift. Automatic dispensers are fixed to walls everywhere. I took out the bag of goop from a dispenser one day to read the ingredients. A list of chemicals a mile long. Yuk!

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