Hand sanitizer: more harmful than you think

Because of how easily and conveniently hand sanitizers clean hands, they are such a common sight in public places these days. Just yesterday, I noticed them displayed prominently for caregivers to use at a facility for babies. Although I always carry one in my bag, I hardly use it as I really prefer washing my hands. And I learnt that this is better because using too much hand sanitizers can actually do more harm to our hands.

Dry out your hands and cause new entry points for bacteria
First off, to be effective, a hand sanitizer should contain at least 60 percent alcohol as anything lower won’t kill the microbes (source). So check the labels before buying that hand sanitizer! I use Burt’s Bees Aloe & Witch Hazel Hand Sanitizer and that solution contains 62 percent Ethyl Alcohol, which I assume do kill bacteria. But going by the studies, it also means that the higher the concentration of alcohol in a hand sanitizer, the higher is its abilities to kill germs. However, we know that any formula high in alcohol will dry out our skin in the long run and thus causing the skin more prone to cracking; that also provides new entry points for bacteria inside the skin.

Kills all bacteria and reduce our hand’s antimicrobial defenses
Not only that, such hand sanitizers actually kill both the good and bad bacteria that live in the skin. While some bacteria get us sick, researchers found a germ that actually protects our immune system. According to the scorched skin policy, overuse of antibiotic soaps and hand sanitizers upsets this happy homeostasis by essentially killing all bacteria, good and bad. The consequence of this scorched skin policy is that we kill the germs that sometimes contaminate our skin and make disease transmission more difficult, but also reduce the effectiveness of our skin’s antimicrobial defenses. So the more sanitizers are used, the more likely bacteria will develop resistances to it and become more lethal varieties that are harder to kill by any means.

Remove protective oil off the skin and allow bacteria to penetrate into skin
I was also reminded during a workshop I attended last Saturday that hand sanitizers tend to strip the protective layer of oil off the skin. With this layer gone, it creates a more beneficial habitat for germs than before, allowing bacteria to penetrate into the skin more easily. And apparently, some bacterial species that are harmless resting atop your skin are troublemakers inside it.

Cut down your usage of hand sanitizer
It’s therefore best to wash your hands with soap and water as far as possible as most soaps remove harmful germs but still leave the layer of protective oil intact. So what’s the best approach with hand sanitizers then? Keep them for emergencies! Or, use them in other creative ways!


  1. Alexandra says:

    Great post! I have been a user of anti-bac washes since the SARS incident and realised that it made my skin dry over a period of time.

    Funnily,I saw an episod of ‘House’ that featured a sick patient that is resistant to all treatments and found that using anti-bacs and sanitizers for long periods made him sick. I’ve since stopped using them. Ya, talk about the influence of TV!

    I am glad to take the natural approach now and leaving the sanitizers only to wiping toilet sets or tables and chairs!

  2. Nikki says:

    I use the isoprophyl alcohol with a spritz bottle and I have a hand lotion always ready inside my bag! I was told not to use gel type hand sanitizers as much as possible as they stay on your hand. Experiment it by washing your hands with running water after application, there’s a clump or it bubbles a bit!

  3. Candy says:

    What about those meant for children? Are they even effective in any way?

    I prefer to wash my hands, but sometimes, there isn’t a toilet nearby, and the hand sanitizer is extremely useful.

  4. Soos says:

    The only time we use them is before we eat out.

  5. sesame says:

    That’s good…I use it during meals out too when we can’t get to wash our hands.

  6. sesame says:

    If they contain 60% alcohol and are supposed to kill germs, then they are effective but it means the kids’ hands can be exposed to more germs if they use such hand sanitizers in the long run.

  7. sesame says:

    I don’t like the gel type too…I haven’t noticed bubbles but I don’t like the feel.

  8. sesame says:

    Oh that’s interesting! Sometimes TV programs, sticoms and dramas can be educational! Glad you learnt and cut out the hand sanitizer already. ?

  9. Liesl says:

    What about ah yuan hand sanitizer?
    Is it effective?

  10. Reena says:

    I have to agree. Sanitizers do have the tendency to make your hands suppper dry. They do come in handy especially if you can’t wash your hands. Have you tried organic hand sanitizers though? I’ve heard that they are not as drying.

  11. MsBeautyBuff says:

    I bought a hand sanitizer once before during an overseas trip but i ended up not using it… at first i thought it was a habit that i was unable to build… then i found myself slowing staying away from washing my hands with soap! the only times i use soap on my hands are before washing and applying products on my face and shower times… the remaining times i only use tap water and i will always apply hand moisturizer after washing.

  12. Swati says:

    wow..Sesame I was just reading this stuff some days back coz I wasn’t sure if sanitizers really helped a lot…btw dettol has around 75% ethyl alcohol (I guess) but it was advised to rely only on soaps and water to clean the hands and also it was written that the sanitizers don’t work for more than 2 minutes so basically they are not much of cleaners…

  13. sesame says:

    It looks like a gentle formulation. Probably effective to a certain extent but might be less potent than those commercial ones. In this case, it is actually good because you don’t want something too strong for kids. But best to use this only when required when there is no access to soap and water.

  14. sesame says:

    I haven’t used organic ones but those of more natural formulation like Burt’s Bees and EO. The alcohol content is lower at 62% so yes, they’re not as drying.

  15. sesame says:

    It depends on what you come into contact with. But on a daily basis, we are exposed to lots of germs eg. like typing on a keyboard. Best to wash with soap say before handling food or personal care items.

  16. sesame says:

    They should really serve more like a stopgap measure between handwashing with soap and water but it looks like more and more public places are using them on a daily, permanent basis. The most disturbing is those places caring for children. The kids are made to use them daily and quite often sometimes!

  17. MsBeautyBuff says:

    Ah.. gd point on food handling which you brought up. I hardly cook so minimal contact.. and I never like to use hand to pick up food… oh. i use alcohol-free wet wipes to clean my hands though… but i only rub it on the inner sides of my hands rather than on the outer sides…

  18. MsBeautyBuff says:

    As i grew older, i find my hands drying alot more often too… esp after in contact with tap water and in airconditioned room…

  19. Catherine says:

    I mainly carry one around with me to use when soap isn’t available in bathrooms which thankfully isn’t too often. I doubt I could get addicted to using them as I hate the feel of them and never feel as clean as with soap. I do also use the proper industrial hand sanitizer when I enter my house after being out… I really couldn’t live without that, especially if I’ve been dealing with icky public transport during the day.

  20. Rosalind says:

    Hello –
    I totally agree with you that I much prefer to “wash” my hands than sanitize. I only use sanitizer when soap and water is not near. Great information. Thanks for sharing.

  21. N. says:

    This is bad. I super addicted to hand sanitizes. But I did notice my hands going drier.

  22. Fiona Lee says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing ?

    I’m not a hand sanitizer person, those things make me feel icky afterwards, coz I didn’t think my hands are cleans at all. I always try to wash my hands instead, but I carry hand sanitizer in my bag for just in case, and I also carry wet wipes.

  23. Issa says:

    nice post! so, this may be the cause for my dry hands! i never realized it until now! thank you so much! ?

  24. sesame says:

    You’re welcome. Maybe you can stop using for a period of time and see if the condition of your hands improve. ?

  25. sesame says:

    Yes, they’re great for emergencies. But I like the wipes used on seats and so forth but not so much my hands.

  26. sesame says:

    Try to cut down your usage and see if they improve.

  27. sesame says:

    You’re welcome. ?

  28. sesame says:

    Oh industrial hand sanitizer? I suppose they’re to be used with water? Yes, it’s true those gel type of sanitizers feel icky…I don’t like those either.

  29. sesame says:

    MsBeautyBuff: I usually use it on my kid like when we’re out and he wants to eat a cake or something. But, mostly to wipe toilet seats. LOL.

  30. MM says:

    great informative post..

  31. sarah chu says:

    i never think about that, your info is very useful, thank you!

  32. Ethix says:

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