Skip to content

9 Side Effects of Hand Sanitiser, According to Doctors

  • by

Hand sanitiser’s can help you kill off the coronavirus but they can also cause unwanted problems. Hand sanitisers come with certain side effects that can affect your skin and more. They are an essential tool in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 but not without problems of their own. We asked the top professionals about how to minimise the pain, so you can still use hand sanitisers and without problems. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these 19 Ways You’re Ruining Your Body.

1. Hand Sanitisers Can Increase Your Risk of Eczema

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the CDC recommends washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if they are not available, using a hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol. Following that advice is essential, but “increased contact with irritants and allergens may increase the risk of hand dermatitis or ‘eczema.’ This commonly manifests on the skin with redness, dryness, cracks, and even blisters that cause itch or pain,” Caroline Nelson, M.D. a Yale Medicine dermatologist and instructor at Yale School of Medicine, tells Eat This, Not That! Health. The Rx: “It is important to not overdo the sanitiser and too moisturise after every use,” advises dermatologist Peterson Pierre, M.D., of the Pierre Skin Care Institute.  “Using a moisturiser, ideally containing mineral oil or petrolatum, can help prevent hand dermatitis. While moisturiser should be applied immediately after hand washing, this is not the case when using a hand sanitiser. Individuals should rub their hands together for about 15-30 seconds covering all surfaces with hand sanitiser until the hands are dry, and then apply a moisturiser,” says Dr. Nelson.

2. Hand Sanitisers Can Irritate Your Skin

“Hand sanitisers are antiseptic products—they are formulated to disinfect the skin,” says Vanessa Thomas, a cosmetic chemist, and founder of Freelance Formulations. “The primary disinfecting ingredient in hand sanitiser formulas is ethyl or isopropyl alcohol, and they are formulated along with thickeners softeners and sometimes fragrances to curtail the strong smell of alcohol. Frequent use of it can cause skin irritation, or dry out the skin. If you have sensitive skin, the effects can be worse. The drying out is caused by alcohol.” The Rx: “Washing hands with warm water and soap are the best way to kill any germs, but there are times when you don’t have access to a sink and soap,” says Thomas. “If you cannot minimise your hand sanitiser use, a good idea is to follow up with a moisturising regimen. Dry skin is caused by a lack of water content in the skin. A moisturiser with humectants and occlusives is best. Occlusives help to create a film over the skin to hold the moisture in, and humectants (hyaluronic acid is an example of one) help to attract water to the skin.”

3. Some Formulations Can Affect Fertility

“Some hand sanitisers are composed of alcohol, such as ethyl alcohol, as an active ingredient that functions as an antiseptic,” says Dr. Chris Norris, a chartered physiotherapist and neurologist and Clinical Associate Professor at The University of California. “However, there are some non-alcohol-based hand sanitisers that consist of an antibiotic compound called triclosan or triclocarban. Several research studies have reported that triclosan is a health hazard as its overuse has negative effects on fertility, foetal development, and rates of asthma,” The Rx: “It is always recommended to wash hands with water and soap to completely eradicate the germs. Use sanitisers only when water and soap are not available,” says Dr. Norris. Avoid ones with triclosan or triclocarban. For a complete list of dangerous hand sanitisers the FDA recommends you never buy, go here.

4. Some Might Cause a Resistance to Antibiotics

“Exposure to triclosan increases the likelihood of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics,” says Dr. Norris. Again, find one without triclosan.

5. Some May Cause Hormonal Problems

“According to the FDA, triclosan present in a hand sanitizer also causes hormone problems. This causes the bacteria to adapt to its antimicrobial properties, which creates more antibiotic-resistant strains,” says Dr. Norris. 

6. Some Affect Your Immune System

“Triclosan also weakens the human immune function. The weakened immune system makes people more susceptible to allergies,” says Dr. Norris.

7. Some Can Impact Your Body Development

“A hand sanitiser that has too much fragrance could be loaded with toxic chemicals like phthalates and parabens. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that can affect human body development and reproduction. Parabens are chemicals that can negatively affect the functioning of hormones, fertility, birth outcomes, and reproductive development,” says Dr. Norris. The Rx: Find a phthalate and paraben-free hand sanitiser.

8. You Could Get a Skin Disorder

“The overuse of alcohol-based hand sanitisers to safeguard against the germs and infection-causing pathogens could inversely increase the risk of infection via skin disorders. Overdoing may remove benign bacteria on the skin that is not good,” says Dr. Norris.  The Rx: “Unlike hand sanitiser, soap and water can effectively remove dirt, grime and eliminate pesticides and other chemical residues that are lingering on your hands,” says Dr. Norris.

9. Hand Sanitisers Could Lead to Alcohol Poisoning

As many hand sanitisers contain very high levels of alcohol, doctors witness cases of alcohol poisoning when it is imbibed. “Since hand sanitisers are easily available, there have been many cases globally where teenagers were hospitalised with alcohol poisoning from consuming hand sanitiser,” says Dr. Norris. The Rx: Do not drink it! Keep it away from your kids and educate your teens. Call 911 immediately if you swallow hand sanitiser.

Final Thoughts & Comments From The Doctors

“Hand sanitisers are a good alternative to reduce potentially infectious microbial load—such as viruses, bacteria, fungus—on the hands or skin, if soap and water is not immediately available,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, in private practice at SkinSafe Dermatology. but remember: “They do not remove physical dirt/ grime/mucus, and so, are not meant to physically wash your hands,” “Hand sanitiser is not as good as soap,” warns Dr. Norris. “Relying on hand sanitisers to keep hands clean may not be your best strategy.”