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Health hazards of overusing hand sanitizers

19 Jun 2020 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      



Hand sanitizer is a popular product these days due to the outbreak of infectious diseases present worldwide. To overcome the transmission of these infectious diseases the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised the members of the global population to wash their hands and maintain the hand hygiene. They must do this by using hand sanitizers which are formulated according to the standard formulations specified by WHO. However, during these days, people trend to overuse hand sanitizers, which are produced under different brand names. However these products are manufactured without much knowledge, thus spreading unnecessary fear regarding diseases. The over usage of hand sanitizer will directly or indirectly affect our health. That is why this week’s Health Capsule is focusing on these hazards caused by the use of alcohol based hand disinfection liquids.

Hand sanitizer is an agent applied on the hands for the purpose of removing common pathogens. It typically comes in the form of foam, liquid, or gel. Depending on the ingredients there are 02 types of hand sanitizers, namely alcohol based or alcohol free. Alcohol based hand rub normally contains 60-95% of alcohol in the form of ethanol, isopropanol or n-propanol. These alcohol concentration effectively acts on neutralizing a certain type of microorganism by immediate denaturing of microorganisms’ proteins. Alcohol-free hand antiseptic products are generally based on disinfectants such as benzalkonium chloride or triclosan like antimicrobial agents.

Moreover, the effectiveness of hand sanitizers depends on multiple factors including quantity used, duration of exposure, frequency of use and whether the specific infectious agents present on the person’s hands are susceptible to the active ingredient in the product.

The WHO has recommended the use of hand sanitizers for disease control and prevention and claims that the use of alcohol-based hand rub is one of the most effective precautions observed in combating the virus. Hence, as a result of this outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, growth of the global hand sanitizer market has been highly influenced and was valued at USD 2.7 billion in 2019. This huge demand for hand sanitizer in recent days might be due to the intensive utilization of hand rubs by the global population due to lack of knowledge and unnecessary fear related to the diseases. However, there are several side-effects which may be caused by the over and prolong usage of hand rubs.



There are two kinds of microorganisms namely pathogenic and beneficial. Pathogenic microorganisms are the cause for the infectious disease. While beneficial microbes play a positive role in our lives through the helping of food digestion, they potentially prevent autoimmune diseases and even stave off infections from invading in the first place. When we use the hand sanitizer, unfortunately, that antibacterial formula can not differentiate bad microbes from good ones and as a result kills all microbes in our hand or skin.



Beneficial bacteria
Millions of bacteria reside on our hands, skin, and inside our guts. While hand sanitizers are killing potentially dangerous microbes, they are also altering the communities of beneficial bacteria on the skin by contributing to antibiotic resistance. Even though hand sanitizer generally does not contain standard antibiotics, when microbes become resistant to some of the sanitizers, this could make it easier for them to be resistant to more important antibiotics. This antibiotic resistance is already a serious threat and it is getting worse.



Irritate the skin
Hand sanitizers are antiseptic products which are formulated with ethyl or isopropyl alcohol in order to disinfect the skin. The frequent use of high alcohol concentrated hand sanitizer can cause skin irritation, or dry out the skin due to the presence of alcohol. If you have sensitive skin, the effects can be worse.



Increases the risk of Eczema
Frequent exposure to high alcohol concentration like skin irritants and allergens may increase the risk of hand dermatitis which commonly manifests on the skin with redness, dryness, cracks, and even blisters that cause itching or pain.



Toxic to health
Non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers consist of an antibiotic compound called triclosan or triclocarban. According to several research studies, inhaled or penetrated (through dermal contact) triclosan is a health hazard. The over usage of such liquids has negative effects on fertility, fetal development, hormone problems, weakens the human immune function and increases the rates of asthma.

Therefore, we have to minimise over using of hand sanitizer in order to prevent susceptibility to the above mention health complications.
(The writer holds a MSc Degree in 
Industrial and Environmental Chemistry from the University of Kelaniya and a BSc in Food Production and Technology Management 
from Wayamba University)