Are Alcohol-Based Sanitizers Dangerous to Human Skin?
With the pandemic in full swing, alcohol-based sanitizers are in high demand and short supply. Though the Centers for Disease Control recommends using soap and water whenever possible, many people have stocked up on sanitizer as a back-up. But is it dangerous to apply an alcohol-based product to your skin?
The short answer is no. But there are some safety considerations you should take into account when using these sanitizers. At a time when hand cleanliness is crucial for public health, you may want to learn the benefits and pitfalls of alcohol-based sanitizers.
Here’s a quick guide to hand disinfection and skin care.
Alcohol-Based Sanitizers are Not Dangerous
First, the big picture.
You are highly unlikely to damage your skin simply by using a professionally produced alcohol-based sanitizer. The World Health Organization even says that “allergic contact dermatitis due to alcohol-based hand rubs is very rare.”
However, it should be noted that sanitizers are FDA-regulated products that do pose certain potential dangers. But those risks are related to the inappropriate use of the product.
For example, it’s never a good idea to ingest alcohol-based sanitizers. You should also keep all dispensers out of the reach of children and pets, as drinking sanitizer could cause alcohol poisoning.
You should also know that alcohol-based sanitizers are flammable. But that flammability does not transfer to your skin once you rub the product in and let it dry.
Are Homemade Hand Sanitizers Dangerous?
Due to the short supply in pharmacies, many people have turned to DIY (do it yourself) recipes for alcohol-based sanitizer.
The FDA strongly advises against this solution. The risk is too great that a homemade formula will be ineffective against viruses or even damaging to the body. Some DIY attempts have resulted in skin burns.
Stay safe and stick to store-bought sanitizers.
Hand Sanitizers vs. Soap and Water
Here’s the good news for anyone struggling to get their hands on sanitizer:
Soap and water are usually a better defense against germs. The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and running water as often as possible. Alcohol-based sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol are the second choice, to be used only when soap and water aren’t available.
As long as you can get to a sink, you’re good until the shelves fill up again.
What’s in a Hand Sanitizer?
A CDC-approved sanitizer gel contains three basic components.
At least 60% of the formula is alcohol. This is the only ingredient that attacks bacteria and viruses. Alcohol destroys the lipid-based coatings that protect pathogens.
Less than 40% of your hand sanitizer is water.
And emollients, fragrance, base, colors, and polyacrylate make up around 1%. Emollients help prevent the alcohol from drying out your skin. Polyacrylate works with water to create a gel. And the base neutralizes the acidic effect of polyacrylate.
Why Alcohol-Based Sanitizers Dry Your Skin
All things being equal, nothing about the sanitizer formula will significantly damage your skin. What you may need to worry about is dryness.
Just as alcohol attacks the lipid coating of viruses, it also breaks down your skin’s protective oils. This can leave your hands feeling dry and irritated.
This is why most alcohol-based hand sanitizers include emollients among their ingredients. For those who have normal skin and use the product only occasionally, moisturizing hand sanitizers have no negative effects.
However, if you already struggle with psoriasis, eczema, or dry skin, any alcohol-based formula is likely to aggravate your problem. That doesn’t mean you should back off-hand hygiene. At a time like this, killing germs is still Priority Number One.
You just need a system for minimizing dryness.
How to Keep Your Skin Clean and Soft
There are ways to show your skin some love even through frequent hand washing and regular application of sanitizer.
Select soaps and sanitizers that contain moisturizing ingredients. Use a humidifier if you live in a dry climate and wear gloves when using cleaning chemicals to avoid making the problem worse. Apply skin cream or oil before bed and wear gloves overnight to help lock in the moisture.
In the end, it’s all about protecting your skin, whether you’re battling infectious diseases or soothing dryness. Be choosy about your products for the sake of your health and your comfort.