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With the Coronavirus, experts recommend to wash hands often. However, when you are on the go, washing your hands is not always an option. Therefore, portable hand sanitizers can be very convenient. With the Coronavirus spreading further, I wanted to get a hand sanitizer for our family and I realized that hand sanitizers are sold out in most places. Especially the brand ‘Purell‘ which is probably the most well known hand sanitizer brand is hard to find. I’ve seen some other brands available online including organic hand sanitizers. Are organic sanitizers effective? Do hand sanitizers contain harmful chemicals? What organic or non toxic hand sanitizers are available? I actually been feeling that my hands were getting really dry from frequent use of hand sanitizers these days. It made me wonder what ingredients hand sanitizers are made of. I wanted to research further. In this post, I share with you what I have found about hand sanitizers.
Do Hand Sanitizers Work?
First thing I wanted to find out about hand sanitizers is if it works to kill germs. Although many hand sanitizers say their hand sanitizers kill 99.99% of germs, it hasn’t been tested or proven that hand sanitizers actually kill the Coronavirus. Sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned Purell. FDA issued a warning because Purell’s website says alcohol is effective at killing or inactivating enveloped viruses, like Ebola and the flu. Most hand sanitizer’s main ingredient is alcohol and is not proven to treat or prevent more serious viruses. Purell products can be marketed as consumer and health care antiseptics, but not as preventative against viruses. If the company doesn’t comply with FDA, they could face legal action.
It seems that the most effective way to kill germs is to wash your hands with soap and water. Soap and water reduces the amount of different types of germs on your hands. Many experts recommend to wash hands often to protect yourself from the Coronavirus. Dr Kalisvar Marimuthu, senior infectious disease consultant at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) said washing hands with soap and water is the best way to protect yourself, that washing hands is better than sanitizers or antiseptic wipes.
Are Some Hand Sanitizers Better Than Others?
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many studies found sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol are more effective at killing germs than sanitizers with low alcohol content or no alcohol. Hand sanitizers with less than 60% alcohol may not work as well as the ones with higher alcohol content and kill germs. Public Health Canada also recommends 60 or 70 percent alcohol content for over the counter hand sanitizers.
How About Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizer?
Many alcohol-free hand sanitizers use antimicrobial benzalkonium chloride instead of alcohol. SafeHands, All Day, Hands2GO, Germ-X are some hand sanitizers that use this chemical instead of alcohol as an active ingredient. However, studies have found that sanitizers with lower alcohol concentrations or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not as effective at killing germs as hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol. The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) says that many studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60–95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Health organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or US Food And Drug Administration (FDA) also recommend alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
However, alcohol-free sanitizers come with some benefits. First, they are easier on your hands and do not dry out your hands. Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be more effective, they do dry out your hands. Ethanol alcohol in some solvents has dehydrating effects to the skin. I’ve been using a lot more hand lotions on my hands ever since I started using alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Second, alcohol-free hand sanitizers also continue to provide protection after applying the sanitizer. All Day Hand Sanitizer says it provides protection up to 24 hours. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, on the other hand, only kill germs when you apply a hand sanitizer on your hands. After alcohol-based hand sanitizers have dried on your hands, they won’t protect you from germs until you sanitize your hands again. Some people say that alcohol-free hand sanitizers can kill germs or bacteria just as effective as alcohol-based ones. Alcohol-free hand sanitizers have some benefits. However, there have been some concerns that long-term use of benzalkonium chloride (BZK) may result in antimicrobial resistance.
Are Active Ingredients Ethanol and Benzalkonium Chloride Safe?
Ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol) – Active Ingredient
Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is used as an active ingredient in alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Experts recommend alcohol-based sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Then is ethanol (or ethyl alcohol) safe when applied topically on hands? When ethanol is applied topically on the skin, it is generally safe. According to rating of safety of chemicals by the Environmental Working Group, ethyl alcohol is safer than benzalkonium chloride, an active ingredient used for alcohol-free hand sanitizers. However, ethyl alcohol does have some concerns. First, ethyl alcohol is drying. I have experienced myself that my hands felt very dry after using alcohol-based hand sanitizers. It has a drying effect so perhaps you should apply a moisturizer after the sanitizer is dry. Secondly, ethyl alcohol is a skin penetration enhancer. This attribution can be a problem if a hand sanitizer has other ingredients that are harmful. Ethyl alcohol may help other toxic ingredients to absorb better by the skin. Therefore, you should check if the hand sanitizer contains any harmful ingredients. Thirdly, applying ethyl alcohol on newborns can lead to ethanol poisoning and even death. Infant’s skin has not matured yet so it is vulnerable to damage and poisoning. Ethyl alcohol does not have the same effect for adult’s skin so adults do not need to worry. The risk for children is low but I would avoid using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with very young children.
GMO Ethanol Alcohol
Ethanol can come from corn, potato, sugarcane, wheat, barley, grain sorghum or sweet sorghum. Most of the ethanol made in the United States is from corn. More than 93 percent of the corn planted in the United States is genetically modified. Most of the corn are used as ethanol, animal feed or corn syrup. According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), several animal studies have linked eating genetically modified foods to serious health risks. Genetically modified ingredients are also used in many personal and cosmetic products. Ethanol used in hand sanitizers will most likely be derived from GMO corn. Although ethanol can be absorbed through skin, absorption amount is very low. Also, distillation process removes all organisms so finish product ethanol has no traces of GMO.
However, genetically engineered corn are genetically modified to be resistant to the Roundup, world’s most widely used herbicide. When the Roundup is used, everything around corn die but corn will survive. Roundup is used to kill weeds but it will also kill other plants, crops or grass. It is toxic to our environment. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the Roundup is classified as a substance causing serious eye damage and being toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects by the the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). It is also classified as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Therefore, if you would like to avoid ethanol alcohol from GMO corn, there are organic ethanol available. Organic ethanol is derived from organically grown grains, grapes or sugar canes.
Benzalkonium Chloride – Active Ingredient
Benzalkonium chloride is used in most alcohol-free hand sanitizers. Alcohol-free hand sanitizers usually comes in water-based foam. They contain 0.1% concentration of Benzalkonium and water, and many of them contain a skin conditioner and vitamin E to moisture your hands. According to Environmental Working Group (EWG), benzalkonium chloride is a known human toxicant or allergen. It is also a skin and eye irritant according to Wikipedia. Prolonged or repeated skin contact with benzalkonium chloride may cause dermatitis. Long term exposure of benzalkonium chloride-based hand sanitizers may also result in antimicrobial resistance.
Are Any Inactive Ingredients In Hand Sanitizers Harmful?
US Food And Drug Administration (FDA) barred the use of 28 ingredients in hand sanitizers. This is effective starting Apr. 2020. Now if hand sanitizer products contain any of these ingredients, the manufacturer would have to get an approval under a new drug application (NDA) or abbreviated new drug application (ANDA). 28 ingredients are listed below. They are classified as chemicals that are not considered to be safe and effective (Gras/GRAE) for use. For example, triclosan is used in hand sanitizers as an active ingredient to kill bacteria. It is readily absorbed into human skin. It is linked to reproductive and developmental defects, cancer development, endocrine disruption, decrease cardiovascular functions in mice, irritation and allergic skin reactions. It was banned by the FDA from antibacterial soap in 2016 but still being used in personal products including hand sanitizers.
- benzethonium chloride;
- chlorhexidine gluconate;
- iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate);
- iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol);
- methylbenzethonium chloride;
- nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine;
- phenol (equal to or less than 1.5 percent or greater than 1.5 percent);
- poloxamer iodine complex;
- povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent;
- secondary amyltricresols;
- sodium oxychlorosene;
- triple dye;
- undecoylium chloride iodine complex;
- polyhexamethylene biguanide;
- benzalkonium cetyl phosphate;
- cetylpyridinium chloride;
- salicylic acid;
- sodium hypochlorite;
- tea tree oil; and
- combination of potassium vegetable oil solution, phosphate sequestering agent, and
There are other harmful ingredients that you should avoid. They are as follows.
Fragrance – Harmful Ingredient
Many hand sanitizers contain fragrances to make them smell good. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, fragrances are made of many petrochemicals. Exact ingredients for fragrances are not disclosed by the manufacturer since they are considered to be a trade secret. Therefore, they could contain harmful chemicals and we wouldn’t even know. Currently, there are 4000 chemicals that are used in fragrances and about one-third of them are known to be harmful. Fragrances often contain phthalates which is an endocrine disruptor and a carcinogen. The Environmental Working Group considers this ingredient as a high hazard ingredient.
Benzophenone – Harmful Ingredient
Benzophenone is used to protect the products from UV light. It is linked to cancer, and it is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the California EPA’s Proposition 65 list. It also causes endocrine disruption and organ system toxicity. It was named Contact Allergen of the Year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society in 2014.
Parabens – Harmful Ingredient
Parabens are used as a preservative in many personal care and cosmetic products. They can penetrate skin and cause harmful health effects. They are known to be endocrine disruptors and they can also cause and develop growth in breast cancer. Common parabens used as ingredients include methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, benzylparaben and butylparaben.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate Or Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate – Harmful Ingredient
Sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl ether sulfate are surfactants which are used as cleansing and foaming agents. They are skin and eye irritants and also have a contamination concern of 1,4-dioxane which is a carcinogen.
Polysorbates – Harmful Ingredient
Polysorbates are used as surfactants, foaming or emulsifying agents. Also, they are often used as fragrance ingredients. They have concerns of contamination with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane are carcinogens.
Synthetic Dyes – Harmful Ingredient
As you see in many products, synthetic colorarants and dyes are also used in some hand sanitizers. For example, a hand sanitizer with aloe vera may contain green artificial dye to make the product look and feel more green or healthy. Synthetic dyes are derived from petroleum and coal tar. Red dyes can particularly be toxic. There are limited studies on toxicity of synthetic dyes when applied on skin. D&C Red #33, D & C Green #5, FD & C Green #3, FD & C Blue 1, Blue 2. FD & C Orange #4, FD & C Yellow #5, and #6 that are used in personal care products and cosmetics can be skin and eye irritants. Artificial dyes FD & C Red #3 causes cancer in animals and Red #40, Yellow #5 and Yellow #6 have been found to be contaminated with benzidine or other carcinogens. Several other artificial color dyes are also linked to tumors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned FD & C Red #3 in cosmetics and externally applied drugs.
Are Purell Hand Sanitizer Ingredients Safe?
In case you are wondering, here are ingredients of one of Purell’s hand sanitizer products. It has 70% of ethyl alcohol. Although most of its inactive ingredients are not natural or organic, they do not seem to pose a threat to your health. However, it contains a harmful fragrance. Each hand sanitizer product of Purell brand has different ingredients. Therefore, you may want to check each product’s ingredients. For example, some of their colorful hand sanitizers also contain synthetic colors. Many of Purell’s hand sanitizers are not rated as low hazard products by the EWG’s Skin Deep. Their sanitizers are mostly rated as moderate hazard sanitizers. Many of Purell sanitizers contain fragrances. Fragrance is considered a high hazard ingredient by EWG’s Skin Deep.
PURELL® Advanced Hand Sanitizer Refreshing Gel
Active Ingredients: Ethyl alcohol 70% v/v.
Inactive Ingredients: Water (aqua), Isopropyl Alcohol, Caprylyl Glycol, Glycerin, Isopropyl Myristate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Acrylates/C10-30 Acrylate Crosspolymer, Aminomethyl Propanol, Fragrance (Parfum)
Organic Hand Sanitizers
Then what organic hand sanitizers are available that contain at least 60% alcohol with no harmful ingredients? Organic hand sanitizers use organic ethanol and essential oils. Many use lavender essential oils. Organic lavender essential oil is naturally antiseptic with anti-microbial benefits. Let’s take a look.
*Due to the current virus situation, demand and shortage, some sanitizers will cost more than usual.
Dr. Bronner’s Organic Hand Sanitizer Spray – Organic Hand Sanitizer
Dr. Bronner’s Organic Hand Sanitizer uses Fair Trade Certified, USDA Organic-Certified ethanol alcohol. This hand sanitizer is non GMO-verified, vegan-certified, and Leaping Bunny certified (no animal testing).
Active Ingredient: Organic 62% ethyl alcohol (Non-GMO)
Inactive Ingredients: Water, organic lavender oil, and organic glycerin
EO Hand Sanitizer Spray Organic Lavender – Organic Hand Sanitizer
EO Hand Sanitizer is GMO-free, Gluten-free, Cruelty-free by the Leaping Bunny. It uses organic ethanol from non-GMO, organic sugar cane.
Active Ingredient: Organic 62% ethanol (non-GMO, organic sugar cane)
Inactive Ingredients: Purified Water, Organic Lavendula Angustifolia (Lavender) Essential Oil, Organic Echinacea Angustifolia Leaf Extract, Vegetable Glycerin, Tocopherol.
WG’s Skin Deep Toxicity Rating: 1 (Low hazard)
EO Botanical Hand Sanitizing Gel, Organic Lavender – Organic Hand Sanitizer
This hand sanitizing gel is also by EO (same company as products above). It is also Cruelty-Free certified by the Leaping Bunny, Gluten free and certified-organic.
Active Ingredients: Organic 62% ethanol
Inactive Ingredients: Purified water, vegetable glycerin, EO® essential oil blend [organic lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil, lavandula hybrida oil], organic simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil, carbomer, dimethicone, aminomethyl propanol.
Everyone Hand Sanitizer Spray, Lavender & Aloe – Organic Hand Sanitizer
Everyone Hand Sanitizer Spray is Gluten-free, GMO-free, Cruelty-free. It is made with non-GMO, organic ethanol and organic plant extracts.
Active Ingredient: Organic 62% Ethanol alcohol (from non -GMO sugar cane)
Inactive Ingredients: Purified Water, Glycerin, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Organic Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Organic Aloe Barbadensis Leaf, Carbomer, Dimethicone, Aminomethyl Propanol
EWG’s Skin Deep Verified for toxin safety (0 Hazard)
EO Hand Sanitizing Wipes, Lavender – Organic Hand Sanitizing Wipes
EO Sanitizing Hand Wipes can be used on countertops, shopping cart handles, hands, etc. to disinfect and prevent the spread of germs. They are GMO free, sulfate-free, polysorbate-free and disodium EDTA free. They are also gluten-free certified and cruelty free certified by the Leaping Bunny.
Active Ingredient: 62% ethanol (from non-GMO, organic sugar cane)
Inactive Ingredients: Purified Water, Glycerin, EO® Essential Oil Blend [Organic Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Essential Oil, Organic Lavandula Hybrida Essential Oil], EO Organic Herbal Blend [Organic Aloe Barbadensis Leaf, Organic Matricaria Recutita (Chamomile) Flower Extract, Organic Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, and Organic Camellia Sinensis (White Tea) Leaf Extract].
Above hand sanitizers all contain at least 60% ethanol alcohol as an active ingredient. Many experts recommend alcohol-based hand sanitizers over alcohol-free hand sanitizers. At this time of shortage of hand sanitizers, you can also make your own by adding ethanol (60-95%), glycerin and water. (However, some places are also short of these ingredients.) Hand sanitizers can also contain harmful chemicals just like many other products. Therefore, you may choose to use organic hand sanitizers which are made of organic ingredients. They are effective and safe. However, washing hands with soap is always a better option.
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