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  • Writer's pictureDr. Adrian Pujayana

Prolonged Hand Sanitizer Use

The 2020 Covid Quarantine appears to be coming to an end, though slowly. Many are cautious to re-enter the workplace and to attend public spaces. And though the quarantine may be conditionally lifted, our hygiene practices may forever be affected, especially the frequent and daily use of hand sanitizers and facemasks.

At this particular time, there are limited double-blind or scientific studies on the prolonged use of hand sanitizers, but many doctors and researchers have come to agree, through anecdotal and frequent observation, that the use of hand sanitizers may have some negative effects on our health, despite it’s benefit to kill germs and viruses on contact. You might say that over time, the use of alcohol based hand sanitizers may “throw the baby out with the bath water”. Here’s how…

  1. Hand sanitizers may not be effective on greasy or visibly dirty hands.

Though it is true that alcohol can disable viral and bacterial potency by breaking through their cellular walls, visibly soiled hands after being in dirt, grease, or food may continue to stay on the skin surface. These particles and accumulated mass may still cause infections when in contact with broken skin, as the body detects these particles as foreign to the body. Use soap and water, and physically remove the grime collected on your skin.

  1. Pesticides and heavy metals are not removed by hand sanitizers.

Like dirt and grime, chemicals like pesticides and heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and aluminum remain on the skin as inorganic material unaffected by gel or alcohol based hand sanitizers. Soap and water is still your best option to remove compounds on skin surfaces. Alcohol based hand sanitizers can come from ethanol (plant) or isopropyl (manufactured) sources, and are highly absorbed by the skin. This can cause other chemicals such as pesticides to travel more easily through the skin in the presence of alcohol based hand sanitizers.

  1. Not all microbes are eliminated by hand sanitizers.

Certain germs like Cryptosporidium, Norovirus, and Clostridium difficile are not rendered inert by hand sanitizer use. Like the above examples, these microbes are best addressed by direct hand washing and wiping with a paper towel whenever possible.

  1. Alcohol poisoning?

There are studies that attempt to evaluate the presence of blood alcohol after several hours of hand sanitizer use...the only problem is that these studies were not done on children over time. Though blood alcohol appear to be negligible with adult hand sanitizer use, children live under somewhat different circumstances. Their hands are smaller, less calloused, and therefore vulnerable to adult doses dispensed by hand-pumped sanitizer bottles. Be aware of over-dosing your child, as the alcohol may be too “wet” to dry properly, and can get into the face, eyes and mouth of your young ones.

  1. Skin irritation and eczema.

Many of us are already experiencing this phenomenon. Frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizers have already caused our skin to become dry, exfoliated, and irritated. If the skin is broken, chaffed, or already irritated, additional alcohol use of sanitizers will surely make the skin more vulnerable to drying and cracking, and eventually breaking the epidermal surface. Try to use a lightweight hand lotion after washing your hands or using hand sanitizers.

  1. Antibiotic resistance and the rise of robust microbes.

Hand sanitizers work on most bacteria and viruses, but not on EVERY one that is on your hand. Your immune system adapts to the presence of microbes and viruses on your skin, and becomes more able to withstand their presence over time...this is very important in keeping our immune system regulated and persistently aware to defend against foreign particles and germs. But the skin surface is weakened, dried, and vulnerable with prolonged hand washing and sanitizer use, and bacteria can and will become more adaptable to hand sanitizers over time. As they become “stronger”, they become more and more resistant to alcohol, and may survive on your skin longer. Combined with an immune-compromised skin condition, a robust version of the virus you are trying to kill may actually breach the skin and enter your body. All microbes and viruses, like humans, adapt to hardship. Hand sanitizer application is a hardship on microbes which some may overcome over time.

  1. Beware of fragrances and unknown ingredients.

Fragrances could be loaded with chemicals and unwanted compounds such as phthalates and parabens. These are chemicals known to cause disruptions in our hormones over time, and may be absorbed through the skin along with the alcohol present in hand sanitizing products. The effect can cause disruptions in your body’s endocrine system, meaning it can affect EVERYTHING from fertility, reproduction, immunity, and cognitive function. The best fragrances come from naturally occurring essential oils that come from the plant, which may or may not affect the price of “quality” hand sanitizers.

Final thoughts…

Hand sanitizers will disable most microbes, germs, and viruses they come in contact long as you use them properly. Quantity, surface contact, and time of contact on your hands make hand sanitizer use more effective, but at a cost. Whenever possible, try to use warm water to loosen oils from soiled hands, and use soap and water. Paper towels are ideal to wipe off excess residue from the hands, and natural oils are best for re-hydrating dried hands. Use hand sanitizers when hand-washing is unavailable, and be aware of the prolonged use of sanitizers on your skin.

Good luck.

-Dr. Adrian

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