With the COVID-19 pandemic still a major concern for the entire world, hand sanitizer is one of the most sought after and utilized products on the face of the earth. Every few minutes, especially while in public, people all over the world are spraying, squirting, or spritzing hand sanitizer. But as we continue to use, and possibly overuse, this essential product during these trying times, how much do we really know about hand sanitizer and its effects on our bodies? It may kill germs topically, but does it have any effects on your body internally? Let’s explore the current sanitation craze and how hand sanitizer could actually be ruining your health.
Can too much of a good thing actually be bad for you?
All over the world, the demand for hand sanitizer has increased 16 times from December 2019 to March 2020. This is due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and more individuals worldwide wanting to kill the spread of germs as much as possible. People are generally becoming more contentious of their personal hygiene and how being in close proximity to others affects and instigates the spread of germs. This all sounds like we are moving in the right direction, with the exception of one problem: too much of a good thing can actually be bad for you. It is possible to overuse hand sanitizer, and actually put your health at serious risk.
How serious is overusing hand sanitizer?
Research shows that overuse of any disinfectant for the skin like hand sanitizer can actually kill bad bacteria, as well as good bacteria. This is because hand sanitizer can disturb entire microbiomes and bacterial communities, which are the very defenses that keep users safe from getting sick. “One aspect of hand sanitizers that is usually overlooked is that they can affect bodies’ microbiomes in a few ways, and some of these ways could be bad,” said microbiologist Jonathan Eisen. Without the good bacteria, we need to keep a healthy, protective balance, our physical systems are more susceptible to disease and infection.
So how much hand sanitizer should we be using?
It is advised that when possible, washing your hands is actually the best line of defense against bad germs, because it does not kill off good germs in the way that hand sanitizer does. Leading experts say that if possible, we shouldn’t be using hand sanitizer every day. If not directly interacting with the public, hand sanitizer should be the second choice after hand washing.
What happens if we do use hand sanitizer every day?
Overuse of hand sanitizer can actually create more bad bacteria-ridden conditions than it kills off. “According to the CDC, hand sanitizer with antibacterial ingredients may also contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” says internal medicine expert Seema Sarin. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria is so dangerous because it essentially becomes immune to the only drugs and products known to destroy it. That is not a good situation to be in, especially while trying to fight off an infection.
What’s even more concerning about hand sanitizer is that it is not as effective as we all may believe. While the CDC does maintain that its effective in killing germs, hand sanitizer is not a catch all for all bacteria. Of further concern is the lack of regulation on all companies who manufacture hand sanitizer. Many sanitizing products that claim to kill germs have not been evaluated by the FDA, rendering their products not totally trustworthy. Sources suggest that there are actually several companies who are facing legal action because of fraudulent, unsubstantiated claims regarding their hand sanitizer products.
So how much hand sanitizer equates to a legal dose?