Are We Overusing Instant Hand Sanitizers?

Instant hand sanitizers are as common as the grocery store these days. As a matter of fact, what was once a novelty at the petting zoo is now provided by many grocery stores as a customer courtesy! We all know that one of the best ways to avoid getting sick is to wash our hands often, especially after public contact, so having instant hand sanitizer available everywhere, including in our own pocket, seems like a no-brainer. But is it? It is very likely that our addiction to instant hand sanitizers is actually harmful for us in the long run.


What is instant hand sanitizer? In simple terms, it is alcohol and it is meant to kill germs when soap and water are inaccessible. Provided your hand sanitizer has a concentration of at least 60% ethanol, ethyl alcohol, or isopropanol, it will do a great job of keeping microorganisms at bay and increasing your chance of avoiding bacteria.


Since instant hand sanitizer is so effective, you may wonder what could be harmful about its long-term use. Certainly not the active ingredient of alcohol on your hands! No, the problem with long-term use is over use. We have always been encouraged to wash our hands often, and that realistically meant once every few hours. Now, we can sanitize every few minutes. While once every few hours may not have been enough to keep people healthy, cleaning our hands too often can actually make us too healthy.


Too healthy?


Yes, meaning if we over wash our hands and continually strip them of all germs, we will be negatively impacting our immune system, which actually uses germs to build its own strength. Did you ever wonder why the kid that never played in the dirt seemed to get sick most often? If his body never got introduced to a germ then it’s very possible his body never learned how to defend itself from an invasion. And let’s be realistic, no matter how sterile you are, unless you are sanctioned in a specialized clean room, you are going to be exposed to germs. Your body needs to learn how to fight those intruders.


So, whether it’s gel or foam in a pump dispenser, squeeze bottle, or spray, instant hand sanitizer is great to have on hand for times when it is needed. However, you shouldn’t feel compelled to use it every time you walk past someone on the other side of the street. If you’ve been holding the hand rail at a movie theater and you’re getting ready to grab some popcorn, you may want to sanitize. But you probably don’t need it after every trip down the aisle in the grocery store. When you come home, wash your hands with soap and water and you’ll be as good as new.

Added to Illness Prevention, Family Health on Tue 01/26/2010