How Hand Sanitizers Harm Your Health and a Simple Alternative

hand sanitizers harm healthBy Debbie Lindgren

Keeping children healthy and safe is the goal of parents worldwide. Experts agree that one of the easiest ways to avoid spreading germs is to wash your hands, particularly prior to eating. However, sinks and bathrooms are not always available. This has prompted children’s gyms, party centers, schools, and parents to provide hand sanitizers for children since they are prone to putting their hands in their mouths as well as touching things that, well, they shouldn’t.

Contact with surfaces such as playgrounds, doors, and tables can play a role in catching a cold or the flu, and just cleaning those surfaces is not enough. The next time someone with a cold touches that surface, the germs will once gain be present. The solution is frequent hand-washing or the use of hand disinfectant. In the US alone, hand sanitizer sales have grown from $50 million to $150 million since 2002.1

However, hand sanitizers do have their critics. An associate professor at Purdue University states manufacturer’s claim 99.9 percent of bacteria are killed because the product is tested on inanimate surfaces such as desks—not on human hands.2  Since testing hands would be more difficult, manufacturers use surfaces with controlled variables to obtain consistent results. Even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states they were unable to find a product that met their label claims of 99.9 percent.3

In addition to the exposure to alcohol-based hand sanitizers, children also come into contact with antibacterial products made with triclosan. Triclosan is registered with the EPA as a pesticide4 and is used in a wide variety of products, including soap, lotions, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, and some toothpastes.5 Triclosan is used to kill bacteria on the skin and other surfaces and sometimes is used to preserve the product against deterioration due to microbes.6 Many scientists now believe that triclosan is not necessary most of the time, and they also believe that it can contribute to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria.7

Acute and chronic effects of triclosan include skin irritation, photoallergic contact dermitis, possible thyroid issues, and allergic reactions. In addition, researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University found that under normal household conditions, products containing triclosan react with chlorinated water to produce chloroform, which is a probable carcinogen.8

A Swedish study found high levels of triclosan in 60 percent of breastmilk samples tested.9 Triclosan and other pesticides can also be absorbed through the skin.

Germ-Free Kids
The “hygiene hypothesis” theorizes that there is a link between being too clean and increased allergies and asthma. Studies have found that people raised in more sterile and hygienic environments actually increase their chances of allergies, asthma, and eczema.10

The CDC states that using antibacterial products could alter a person’s microflora and affect the normal development of the T-helper cell response of the immune system. They believe this change leads to greater chance of allergies in children.11 In addition, our immune system gets stronger if it is challenged, and not challenging it enough could lead to more frequent illness.12  The CDC urges us to use these products sparingly and remind us that the original purpose of these products was to protect vulnerable patients.

Essential Oils
Essential oils have been around for centuries and are even referred to in the bible as a way to cleanse and heal. But does this apply to modern times? Published research does seem to support the efficacy of essential oils. In fact, a study published in 2006 examined the effectiveness of 21 essential oils on six bacterial species. Out of 21 essential oils tested, 19 oils showed antibacterial activity against one or more strains. Cinnamon, clove, geranium, lemon, lime, orange, and rosemary oils showed the most promise13 , and are one of the reasons for the growing belief of their effectiveness in protecting the human hand against bacteria. There are several patents for antimicrobial products, in which essential oils are used as the antimicrobial agent.14,15

Staph Infections
In a 2004 study, the biology department at the Manchester Metropolitan University researched patchouli, tea tree, geranium, and lavender essential oils as well as Citricidal (grapefruit seed extract). These oils and extracts were used alone and in combination to assess their anti-bacterial activity against three strains of Staphylococcus aureus. A combination of Citricidal and geranium oil showed the greatest anti-bacterial effects against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), while a combination of geranium and tea tree oil was most active against the methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (Oxford strain). The researchers concluded that the study demonstrated the potential of essential oils and essential oil vapors as antibacterial agents and for use in the treatment of MRSA infection.16

Protection against Food-Borne Pathogens
One study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology looked at the effectiveness of essential oils against a number of common food-borne pathogens. Results suggest the possibility that citrus essential oils, particularly bergamot, could be used as a way of combating the growth of common causes of food poisoning.17

Head Lice
The Archives of Dermatological Research published a study in 2007 that demonstrated the effectiveness of essential oils on head lice and compared them to commercially available products marketed to treat lice. A lotion combination of lavender, peppermint, and eucalyptus provided the best results and were comparable to the best commercial product available on the market.18

In a study published in Holistic Nurse Practice in March 2008, nurses working in the intensive care unit perceived lower levels of stress with the use of lavender essential oils.19

Take Action
A visit to your local health food store will provide you with an abundance of ways essential oils are being used today—from shampoos to hand sanitizers. Or if you prefer, look into the straight essential oils. They provide a good alternative to harsher chemicals that are available on the market. If you or your child is sensitive to chemicals, these are definitely worth a try. Therapeutic-grade essential oils can be ingested (in small amounts) and are widely available. Given the research supporting essential oils, the growing trend of essential oil hand sanitizers certainly seems justified. For regular hand-washing, plain old soap and water is recommended.

The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: Over 600 Natural, Non-Toxic and Fragrant Recipes to Create Health – Beauty – a Safe Home Environment by Valerie Ann Worwood provides a good overview and solutions for using essential oils at home.

EO and Cleanwell both make essential-oil-based products and are widely available. They can also be purchased in bulk for school settings.

Debbie Lindgren is co-founder of, a website that emphasizes how dietary and environmental factors influence children’s health, learning, and behavior. Debbie started the website after one of her son’s was diagnosed with lead poisoning

Originally published February 20, 2009


  1. “In germ-concerned USA, retailers, restaurants find sanitizers handy,” USA Today, January 3, 2007,
  2. Perdue University, “Hand sanitizers no substitute for soap and water” (2000):
  3. Centers for Disease Control, “Hand Sanitizer Alert” (2006):
  4. Environmental Protection Agency, “Reregistration Eligibility Decision and Risk Assessment for the Pesticidal Uses of Triclosan” (2008):
  5. Beyond Pesticides, “The Ubiquitous Triclosan: A common antibacterial agent exposed” (2004):
  6. Mayville-Cox, Patricia. “Just Say No to Triclosan,” The Daily Green,
  7. David Gutierrez, “Antibacterial soap ingredient triclosan may be harmful to humans,” Natural News,
  8. Beyond Pesticides, “The Ubiquitous Triclosan: A common antibacterial agent exposed” (2004):
  9. Levy, Stuart B. “Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern,” Emerging Infectious Diseases 7(2001):
  10. Levy, Stuart B. “Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern,” Emerging Infectious Diseases 7(2001):
  11. Mercola, “The Dangers of Dishwashing” (2005):
  12. Seenivasan Prabuseenivasan et al., “In vitro antibacterial activity of some plant essential oils” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 6:39 (2006):
  13. Free Patents Online, “Antimicrobial composition formulated with essential oils” (2005):
  14. Patent Storm, “Antimicrobial composition formulated with essential oils” (2002):
  15. World Intellectual Property Organization “Antimicrobial Composition Formulated with Essential Oils” (2006):
  16. Edwards-Jones V, et al. “The effect of essential oils on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus using a dressing model,” Burns 30(2004):772-7.
  17. Fisher K, Phillips “The effect of lemon, orange and bergamot essential oils and their components on the survival of Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, Bacillus cereus and Staphylococcus aureus in vitro and in food systems.” Journal of Applied Microbiology 101( 2006): 1232-40.
  18. Gonzalez Audino P, et al. “Effectiveness of lotions based on essential oils from aromatic plants against permethrin resistant Pediculus humanus capitis.” Archives of Dermatological Research. 299 (2007): 389-92.
  19. Pemberton E, Turpin PG. “The effect of essential oils on work-related stress in intensive care unit nurses.” Holistic Nurse Practice 22 (2008):

Image: Vicki C.

4 thoughts on “How Hand Sanitizers Harm Your Health and a Simple Alternative”

  1. The use of essential oils in place of hand sanitizer is a great idea, but the author of this article gives no information on how to do this responsibly. Essential oils are very strong, and if they aren’t used responsibly they can cause great damage – particularly when it comes to babies and children. Just like anything else, one must be educated in the use of something before randomly assuming it’s fine because it’s natural. People who don’t understand that shouldn’t be writing about this topic. It gives the use of such products a bad reputation, and turns people away from them. Just as some misinformed people abuse herbs, the same misinformed people can abuse essential oils, and may even cause great damage to their children. Please, please do your research before randomly picking essential oils off the shelf and using them willy nilly!

  2. Most hand sanitizers use alcohol, not triclosan, to kill germs. Triclosan is present many places- soaps and surface cleansers especially- but is NOT present in the hand sanitizers on the wall anywhere my kids and I go. This article assumes hand sanitizers contain triclosan. Then it says straight essential oils can kill germs. Well, ok- but no one should use “straight” essential oils (the technical term is “neat” essential oils) on babies or children, and even on adults for normal use. And many hand sanitizers at the health food store which contain essential oils use an alcohol base. It is the alcohol as much as the essential oils that kill the germs. And plain alcohol may be a better choice for folks with sensitive skin. It will dry your skin, but you can follow with a lotion. Some essential oils, especially citrus oils, will irritate very sensitive skin.

    Mothering- this article is poorly done. Where is your quality control?

  3. ガガミラノ スーパーコピー 設計の観点から見ると、あなたが話して易通は中から、好易通の頭蓋骨を思ったのは宇宙全体の漫画、アニメや映画の頭蓋骨と人物。私は選んで他人のスカル、T-1000ターミネーター、もちろん、罰者の頭蓋骨マーク。その決定させて好易通の頭蓋骨の時計はもちろん彼ら自分の連想と骨の好易通頭骨時計ダイヤル彼らに注意。私から見れば、好易通として未来のスカルスタイルと見てあの奇跡のアイアンマン見副;意味ドクロはドクロと多くの「悪いassery」頭蓋骨、マスクや鎧。

  4. また、Rolex(ロレックス)が現地に積極的に賛助スポーツの試合を含め、上海Rolex(ロレックス)マスターズ、オーストラリアオープンや多くの著名なゴルフ大会(例えば上海で開催されたHSBC選手権など)。また、戦略的に中国とゴルフ協会結成パートナー関係。Rolex(ロレックス)最近の重要な措置はタイガー・ウッズと手を組む。後者は婚变事件後、当時のスポンサー(例えば豪雅など)にいちいち「捨てる」。しかし、ウッズにもかかわらず、アメリカのイメージががた落ちだが、アジアには「ボール聖と見なされ」。だから、前テニス選手、現職Rolex(ロレックス)会社の宣伝とイメージ総監のArnaud Boetsch決定を彼に「賭け一注」。ブルガリコピー時計この決定はかなり読み応え。これだけではブランド「保証」はタイガー・ウッズは「新たな挑戦に直面している」に伴そのごろ、主にこの協力は一定のリスク性。冒険が積極的な企業の座右の銘も業の中で勝利者もそう。

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