A Closer Look at Hand Sanitizer
By Leslie Baumann, M.D.
May 25, 2014
It seems everyone uses hand sanitizers these days, especially if they have small children. We live in a germ-phobic society, and these gels and sprays come in handy when we just can’t make it to a bathroom for a proper handwashing—but despite the convenience, hand sanitizers can have a detrimental effect on the skin. In fact, I’ve seen a rise in patients coming to see me for dermatitis on their hands, and hand sanitizer seems to be the main culprit.
Alcohol is a common ingredient in hand sanitizers, but as it kills germs it also makes water evaporate off the skin and strips it of its natural fatty acids, which compromises the skin’s barrier. This leads to increased risk of irritation from common products like soap, and causes skin to become red and flaky. Even more, research has shown that alcohol can’t kill the germs we fear most, including the common cold, flu and stomach viruses.
Triclosan is another ingredient found in hand sanitizers, and the FDA recently issued a warning about its safety due to a 2012 study that linked it to muscle damage in fish and mice. (Note: Purell, one of the most popular hand sanitizers, does not contain triclosan.)
How to sanitize hands the healthy way
I recommend GCP Skincare Pre & Post Procedure Cleanser for patients with dermatitis due to frequent washing and hand sanitizer use because it effectively removes microorganisms without irritating the skin. After washing, it’s important to use a moisturizer that helps repair the skin’s barrier, such as Zeroid Intensive Face Cream. Though designed for the face, it’s ideal for the hands because it contains a protein that helps the skin defend itself against bacteria. But these products aren’t just for those with inflamed or irritated skin, and anyone who washes their hands frequently can benefit from these products.
Hydrate skin with oils
Applying hand cream at bedtime is a great way to hydrate skin while you sleep, but oils may be more effective. Argan oil has a high concentration of stearic acid that doubles as an intense moisturizer for severely dry skin. Safflower oil (found in the cooking oil aisle at the supermarket) contains linoleic acid that acts as an anti-inflammatory for red or inflamed skin. These two oils can be mixed to create a comprehensive hand treatment.