Hand Sanitizer Safe?

May 18, 2010

In case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t noticed, Purell hand sanitizer is everywhere. Several of my friends have it in their homes, my daughter’s teacher has vats of it in her classroom, every other checkstand and cashier station has a bottle, shoot I even keep travel bottles of Purell in my daughter’s backpack and in the center console in my car. We don’t use it at home because here we opt for actual SOAP, but I know several people who almost use it as a replacement or substitute for soap even.

I have been hearing lately that we, as a society, have gone a bit overboard with the whole antibacterial movement. I feel like I know more germophobes now, than ever before. My daughter’s doctor doesn’t love Purell (or hand sanitizer in general for that matter, but it’s easier to talk about Purell since they seem to monopolize this market), because she feels that exposure to germs and bacteria is actually a good thing, as it helps the body build up immunities and antibacterial power on its own. And she thinks the alcohol is too drying.

Well I have come across two healthier alternatives to Purell hand sanitizer:

  • Burt’s Bees Aloe & With Hazel Hand Sanitizer ($5 for 2 oz): Now this hand sanitizer does contain alcohol, but it does not contain propylene glycol, sulfates, parabens, phthalates, petrochemicals, artificial color or synthetic fragrance. Instead the ingredients include ethyl alcohol (62% – antimicrobial), water, with hazel bark extract, natural fragrance, and aloe leaf extract. The ingredients are 100% natural, certified by the Natural Products Association. It is not tested on animals, and the package is recyclable. It claims to eliminate 99.99% of germs, naturally.
  • CleanWell All-Natural Hand Sanitizer ($2.99 for 1 oz = 225+ sprays): Now for those that don’t like the alcohol factor of hand sanitizer, this is for you! It does not contain alcohol, propylene glycol, sulfates, parabens, artificial color, or synthetic fragrance. Instead it contains thyme oil (0.05% – sanitizer), aloe leaf juice, orange oil, hydrolyzed oats, litsea oil, and oregano oil. Thyme oil is a naturally occurring antimicrobial. It is made with Ingenium, which is their patented formulation of natural essential oils that are proven to kill 99.99% of germs. (Don’t you ever wonder why none of them can kill that last .01%?) It is a kid safe formula. This sanitizer is sustainable, cruelty-free, and the package is recyclable.

Between these two options, I prefer the CleanWell sanitizer, because I like the idea of sanitizing with natural essential oils like thyme and oregano, versus alcohol. I do not believe that you need alcohol in order to disinfect. I know it works, but I do not think it is necessary. I believe there are alternatives that work just as well, only in addition they also have some added benefit. But that’s just me. If you think that you need the alcohol component to feel that you are getting yours or your childs hands clean, then by all means do so. But know that Burt’s Bees is a healthier alternative to Purell, and other generic brands with similar ingredients.

Now I have to be honest with you, I thought I had found a third option as well. Giovanni makes sanitizing towelettes. I thought these would be great to leave in my car, or carry around in my purse since they come in little individually wrapped packets – just like at a seafood restaurant, for example. And I typically like Giovanni because they consider themselves to be an “organic body care” company. In fact, I am currently using several of their hair products. The inactive ingredients in their sanitizing towelettes include organic lavender oil, aloe vera, jojoba oil, and vitamin E. They do not contain propylene glycol, sulfates, synthetic perfumes or detergents, and are cruelty-free. Sounds great, right?

Well, the active ingredient in the towelettes is not thyme oil, or even alcohol – like in the other two products I found, but rather is benzalkonium chloride (0.13%). Benzalkonium chloride is the antimicrobial in the sanitizer. I had never heard of it before, and have learned not to just blindly trust whatever companies are putting on the shelves. So I did a bit of research, and was disappointed with what I found.

Benzalkonium chloride (BAC) and Benzethonium chloride are synthetic germicides. Well you already know how I feel about synthetic chemicals. (Not a fan.) Apparently it is found in a wide range of cleaning products, disinfectants, first aid products, and personal care products. Greeeat. Well over the last 20 years, studies have come out showing that frequent exposure to BAC is associated with health risks like: asthma, chronic dermatitis, and other immune system disorders.[1] It is also thought to cause reproductive system damage.[2] In fact, on CleanWell’s website (one of the hand sanitizer brands I did recommend), they specifically site Benzalkonium chloride as a toxic chemical to be avoided – along with Triclosan. This is a reminder to me that you can not assume a product is good, simply because it is made by a brand that makes other products you like, or because it claims that it’s ingredients are “natural”, or even because it does contain a lot of good ingredients.

Now in case you’re wondering what’s wrong with Purell, or other generic brands just like it, it’s not necessarily the alcohol (although some argue that alcohol is too drying for the skin when used frequently, as many do with hand sanitizer), but rather Purell also contains propylene glycol and synthetic fragrance – two toxins you do not need for a hand sanitizer to be effective.

For more information on Burt’s Bees and CleanWell products, please visit their websites. (www.burtsbees.com) (www.cleanwelltoday.com)

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References: [1] http://abetterwaytoclean.com/?p=61 [2] http://www.ewg.org/release/epa-guts-safety-standards-pesticide-request-manufacturer

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