If you use hand sanitizer often, proper hygiene is obviously important to you. There’s a good chance you also wash your hands frequently, as you likely know handwashing can prevent illness and help you maintain personal wellness, as noted by the CDC. The practice should be an essential part of everyone‘s cleanliness regimen as it will not only benefit the person washing their hands, but it can also potentially spare the community from sicknesses caused by bacteria and viruses.
While you’re probably (and hopefully) not considering giving up handwashing anytime soon, it’s true that access to soap and water isn’t always possible, like when you’re riding public transportation, working outside, or shopping at the farmer’s market. To that end, you’ve probably started relying on alcohol-based hand sanitizers to kill the germs on your hands, especially during seasons when illness rates are high. It certainly can ease your anxiety until you’re close to a sink again!
However, there are things that you should know about using hand sanitizer every day, as there could be some unpleasant side effects from doing so. If you’re curious as to what those may be, read on to find out!
You will protect yourself from germs if you use hand sanitizer every day
The primary reason that people use hand sanitizer is, rather obviously, to kill bacteria and viruses. That’s because it’s a vehicle for alcohol, according to Kristina Duda, a registered nurse. “Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is simple to use, convenient, and often easy to find,” she penned in an article for Verywell Health. “Alcohols have long been known to kill microbes by dissolving their protective outer layer of proteins and disrupting their metabolism.” That’s good news for the health-conscious commuter, for sure.
Duda cautions, however, that using hand sanitizer isn’t a substitute for washing your hands, as it can’t do as much as soap, water, and proper handwashing technique. “Hand sanitizer can help kill microbes, but it isn’t effective on all germs,” she continued. Sorry, germophobes! Duda added that it will do nothing for the other substances that may be on your hands, so that’s where the buck stops.
It’s also important to apply sanitizer properly for it to be as effective as possible, too, said Duda. So make sure you’re using the right amount, fully coating both of your hands, and rubbing your hands together until it dries.
Using hand sanitizer every day can disrupt your microbiome
One thing hand sanitizer is especially good at is killing microbes, which is how it keeps people safe from a wide variety of illnesses. However, sanitizer is actually a little too good at killing bacteria, according to microbiologist Jonathan Eisen. “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,” he revealed in an interview with Popular Science. That’s because it kills off bacteria that’s beneficial for keeping our bodily functions in order.
Because hand sanitizer can wreak havoc on our healthy bacterial communities, Eisen advises against using it every day. “I recommend that people use hand sanitizers with caution, and only if really needed,” he added. So if you’re just hanging around your house or aren’t coming into frequent, close contact with other people, you can probably just stick to handwashing.
If you use hand sanitizer every day, you may create stronger bacteria
Hand sanitizer can be a culprit in potentially dangerous conditions. So, if you’re using it liberally every day, that can become problematic, as noted by board-certified internal medicine physician Seema Sarin. “According to the CDC, hand sanitizer with antibacterial ingredients may also contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” she explained to The List. In order to prevent creating those scary little microbes, washing your hands with soap and water instead of reaching for the hand sanitizer should always be your default, if at possible.
What’s so scary about antibiotic-resistant bacteria anyway? According to the CDC, these pathogens have developed the ability to tolerate the drugs that otherwise should be able to kill them. That means if you catch one of these bugs, your normal course of antibiotic medication won’t be effective at clearing them from your body. That’s the case for the 2.8 million Americans who get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria or fungi annually, of which 35,000 die. Yikes!
You can still get sick if you use hand sanitizer every day
The CDC asserts that hand sanitizer does effectively kill germs and is a good alternative to soap and water when one is unable to wash their hands. Still, hand sanitizer isn’t a magical elixir — regardless of what the bottle claims. As registered nurse Kristina Duda pointed out, you can’t always trust the claims of hand sanitizer makers. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken legal action against some hand sanitizer companies for making unproven claims against salmonella, e. Coli, Ebola, rotavirus, influenza, and MRSA,” Duda revealed in an article for Verywell Health.
That doesn’t mean hand sanitizer is ineffective, though, as Duda noted that some science is on the side of hand sanitizer manufacturers. “At the same time, though, studies are beginning to suggest that alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be effective at killing some of these germs,” she continued. Duda added, however, that some manufacturers remain in need of FDA approval, so any claims they make can’t be trusted. And, as is often the case, more research is needed.
If you handle chemicals, using hand sanitizer every day can be dangerous
If you work with chemicals all day, every day, you definitely want to make sure your hands are clean at the end of your shift. Such would be the case for cleaning service workers, farm workers who handle various forms of pesticides, auto technicians, and any other profession wherein you have to work with ultra-strong cleaning and de-greasing agents. You definitely don’t want to go home with those all over your hands!
However, hand sanitizer is the last thing you want to reach for to clean your paws every day, as the combination of the liquid gel and chemicals can be all kinds of bad for your health. According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, farm workers who used hand sanitizer actually had increased levels of pesticides in their bodies as opposed to those who didn’t use the sanitizer. That’s one reason why the CDC cautions against the practice and instead advises you simply wash your hands with soap and water. Gloves may be your friend as well, in some situations, though they are not a substitute for handwashing.
Your hands may dry out if you use hand sanitizer every day
Have you noticed that using hand sanitizer every day has caused your hands to become incredibly dry? There’s a reason for that, as noted by Janette Nesheiwat, a family and emergency medicine doctor. “Hand sanitizers contain alcohol, which will dry out your skin, but that can be fixed with moisturizer and staying hydrated,” she shared with The List. “Or use soap and water instead of an alcohol-based sanitizer when possible.” Are you sensing a theme? Handwashing is king, folks.
It’s also worth noting that dry skin can be more than just annoying. If your hands are dry to the point they become cracked, you may be more susceptible to infection. “It at least seems plausible,” microbiologist David Coil told Reader’s Digest. So if you absolutely have to use hand sanitizer, try to limit it to one time after your hands become contaminated instead of repeatedly.
If you use hand sanitizer every day, your hands may become irritated
Using hand sanitizer every day can cause some unpleasant skin irritation, according to surgical oncologist Trevan Fischer. “Repeated use of anything, including hand sanitizer, can cause chronic irritation, skin breakdown, and damage,” he explained to MSN. That would make it pretty tough to get things done, especially if you work extensively with your hands.
This is especially the case if you opt for specific kinds of hand sanitizer, as noted by Fischer. “If you’re using very high concentrations of alcohol, it can cause … cracks in the skin,” he continued. “Not only does it not feel good when the alcohol hits the skin, but then the skin won’t heal as well.” Sounds like that could be a problem for a while!
If you want to avoid the adverse skin issues, you can select an alcohol-free hand sanitizer instead, but know that it will be far less effective than alcohol-based formulas. In fact, the CDC only recommends using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
You could ruin your manicure if you use hand sanitizer every day
Hand sanitizer does not care about your manicure. “It won’t take off the polish, but it will break it down and make you more susceptible to chips,” manicurist Erica Marton told Reader’s Digest. What’s worse, using the product can actually cause your nails to become quite brittle, according to clinical dermatologist Zoe Draelos.
“Physicians will notice that the nails are broken, with fissures at the tips,” she revealed in an interview with Dermatology Times. “Although nails are largely of cosmetic importance, if the nail breaks, it can become quite painful, and sometimes the nail plate can fracture and tear into the nail bed.” And that in turn can render your nails vulnerable to a number of conditions, like bacterial and fungal infections. To combat brittle nails, Dr. Draelos recommends using a nail moisturizer with urea and lactic acid cream, as well as taking a biotin supplement.
If you have cuts on your hands, using hand sanitizer every day will hurt
Are you someone who reaches for an alcohol swab immediately after cutting yourself? As it turns out, that’s an antiquated practice, according to wound care expert Dr. Kazu Suzuki. “In the wound care world, we say, ‘Don’t put anything in your wound that you wouldn’t put in your eye,'” he shared with the Los Angeles Times. “Yes, it will kill some bacteria, but it also kills and irritates healthy skin and the wound bed.” It’s also going to pack quite the sting!
That’s also the mechanism at work when you use alcohol-based hand sanitizer on a cut — which if you’ve ever accidentally done, you know it can hurt quite a bit. Specifically, alcohol on a wound stimulates the vanilloid receptor-1, or VR1, in your body, as noted by analytical chemist Joseph Glajch. “So, all of a sudden, you feel like you’re getting burned, even though you’re not getting burned,” he said in an interview with Live Science.
Your hands may not get clean enough if you use hand sanitizer every day
Let’s say you’ve been working in the garden and your hands are covered in dirt. Or, perhaps you’ve been cleaning around your house and your hands are visibly showing the grime you’ve been accumulating. When it comes time to clean your hands, don’t reach for the sanitizer, revealed Graham Snyder, infectious disease specialist and medical director of infection prevention at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
“Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not remove dirt, and are less effective at killing bacteria and viruses when hands are soiled,” the expert explained in an interview with Reader’s Digest. “It’s important to use soap and water if your hands need to be cleaned of dirt.”
That same rule applies when you’ve been in especially germy situations, such as changing a diaper, taking out the trash, or cleaning the litter box. The CDC would rather you opted for soap and water instead of sanitizer, as the former is just more effective in those situations.
No, you won't get intoxicated if you use hand sanitizer appropriately every day
If you use alcohol-based hand sanitizer every day, you’ve probably noticed how strongly it smells of, well, alcohol. Given the CDC recommends you stick to sanitizer that is more than half alcohol in order to stay healthy, the strong scent is not at all surprising. After all, that’s certainly a lot stronger than your average whiskey!
But, just because you’re slathering your hands with super strong sanitizer every day doesn’t mean that it’s going to render you intoxicated. According to the BBC’s Science Focus, while alcohol can indeed be absorbed into your skin when you apply sanitizer to your hands, that won’t have a noticeable impact on your blood-alcohol level.
Additionally, the alcohol in your sanitizer is quite volatile, so the vast majority of it will evaporate before your skin has a chance to soak it up. As long as you’re using it appropriately, you don’t have to fear getting pulled over for your hand sanitizer habit.
If you ingest or inhale hand sanitizer every day, you risk alcohol poisoning
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are, for the most part, safe to use every day when done so correctly, as noted by the CDC. Washing your hands with soap and water should always be the default, but if you’re in a situation where that’s not possible a little hand sanitizer will do the trick.
However, if you ingest hand sanitizer instead of using it on your hands — which is a terrible idea — you could be at risk of alcohol poisoning. If a smidgen accidentally lands on your lip, though, that’s not a cause for concern. If you guzzle a few mouthfuls, on the other hand, you might be in trouble.
The CDC notes that children are particularly at risk of ingesting sanitizer, especially if it’s “scented, brightly colored, or attractively packaged.” In fact, poison control centers in the United States answered 85,000 calls about exactly this between 2011 and 2015, showing just how prevalent the problem is. As such, the CDC advises keeping the product both out of children’s reach and only allowing kids to use hand sanitizer when supervised by an adult.
Can using hand sanitizer every day impair your muscles?
While some of the negative side effects of using hand sanitizer every day are relatively minor, some of them can be significantly more concerning. One alarming impact hand sanitizer can potentially have on your body is impairing your muscles — that is, if it contains triclosan, which many sanitizers do.
According to an article in The Atlantic, researchers at the University of Colorado and the University of California, Davis found that triclosan prevented muscular contraction just 10 to 20 minutes after exposure. It also reduced both grip strength and heart function in mice, and impaired the swimming ability of fathead minnow larvae.
While the implications of the study don’t pose much of a threat to healthy people, those with heart failure could experience dangerous muscle impairment due to triclosan. Wild animals may also be vulnerable, which isn’t good news for their survival rates if exposed.
Using hand sanitizer every day may increase your risk of osteoporosis
Using hand sanitizer with triclosan every day could spell trouble, especially for women. According to Dr. Yingjun Li of Hangzhou Medical College in China, the chemical can also have an impact on your bone health — and not a good one.
“Triclosan exposure may be a risk factor for lower bone mineral density and osteoporosis,” they revealed in an interview with Reuters. “The evidence was stronger in postmenopausal women than in premenopausal women.” So the older you get, the more of an issue this could become.
Li and a team of fellow researchers reviewed data from nearly 2,000 women in the United States. From that, they extracted that women with high amounts of triclosan in their urine were more likely than their counterparts to have osteoporosis by two and a half times. That’s a significant difference! As triclosan can also be found in some soaps, make sure you’re read those labels carefully.
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