Hand Sanitizers Are Extremely Harmful For You – Here’s Why


Nx86xdrewssexybody-3Written by: Sarah Lawrence

‘Tis the season of coughs and sneezes and stomach bugs. If they’re not already out, this is the time of year when people get really serious about hand sanitizer. You’ll see it on desks, on checkout counters, in the produce aisle, by the deli counter, in the doctor’s office, in classrooms, in bathrooms and even suspended by cute hang tags on handbags and backpacks.

The bottles range from straightforward to stylized; the gel itself can be clear, colored or glittered and glam. Gone are the days of Plain Jane lemon sanitizer… these things now come in designer scents that are fruity, fresh, softly sensual and even candy sweet.  

Hand sanitizer is mainstream, so it must be safe… right?  

As a Certified Holistic Health Coach and a mom of a 9 year old and a teenager, I check out everything that gets close to my tribe. This year, as in years past, hand sanitizer was on the school supplies list. We opt for safer DIY alternatives (recipes included below), but I wanted to see if things had changed since I made my decision to nix it.  

The reading and researching brought me here today… because there are things that you really need to know before you use hand sanitizer again!  

The jury has been out discussing hand sanitizer safety for some time. When I decided to stop using it several years ago, these were the problems that swayed me:

1. Triclosan  

This common ingredient in some hand sanitizers has major issues. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes that triclosan could carry unnecessary risks, while the benefits have yet to be proved.

  • Impacts hormone regulation in your body.

2. Toxic Chemicals

  • Scent/fragrance – Companies are not required to disclose the ingredients that make up their secret scents. Synthetic fragrances contain phthalates, which are endocrine disrupters that mimic hormones, which can impact reproductive health.   
  • ParabensThese are preservatives that extend shelf life. The problem is, they can shorten yours. Parabens have estrogenic qualities and have been found in breast tumors.  

3. Alcohol Content  

Hand sanitizers are mostly alcohol, which is drying to the skin.  

In 2006, when my 2nd was born, that was the extent of it. Honestly, that was enough for me. But, as I researched and re-evaluated commercial hand sanitizer, a new hazard popped up and it’s just not something that can be ignored.  

This was the one headline that grabbed me and got me here: More children getting drunk on hand sanitizer.“  

And I was like, “WHAT?!”

Recent news out of Georgia reported that a 6 year old who ingested hand sanitizer while at school needed to be admitted to the hospital, because she was dangerously drunk. 3 or 4 squirts of hand sanitizer spiked the girl’s blood-alcohol level to .179 – That is twice what’s considered legally drunk for an adult.  

Unfortunately, this recent story isn’t isolated and the problem isn’t uncommon.

Since 2010, there has been close to a 400% increase to Poison Control Center hotlines related to children younger than 12 ingesting hand sanitizer. In 2010, 3,266 of sanitizer ingestion by young children were reported. Contrast that with 16,117 cases in 2014!

For an even broader perspective, the American Association of Poison Control Centers notes that there have been over 17,000 hand sanitizer exposure cases in children under 12 years old each year since 2011… That’s huge!

Now, exposure doesn’t necessarily mean poisoning. What it does mean is that there was some contact with the substance – hand sanitizer, in this case – that resulted in a visit to a medical professional.

When 17,000 cases are documented every year for 4 years and counting, I’d say there’s something that needs to be addressed!

Let’s consider the challenges that hand sanitizer presents in these 3 age groups.

1. In younger children, it’s more common for ingestion to be a bit of an experiment because of the glittery look of the gel or because of the kid-friendly smells of berry, lemon and melon.

Little kids can be curious about the look of the products; couple that with familiar and fun smells and it’s hard for this age group to distinguish the chemical concoction from a food item that’s safe.

2. Looking at the poisoning cases in the 7-12 year olds, what’s startling is that many are NOT accidental. These poisonings are the result of children drinking the hand sanitizer intentionally in order to get drunk.   

3. In teens, covert chemistry and distillation can spell disaster – and you bet it happens.

What you need to know:

  • A child who licks a tiny amount of hand sanitizer off of his/her hands is unlikely to become sick – just a lick = unlikely to get sick.
  • A child who ingests more than a taste of hand sanitizer could be at risk for alcohol poisoning –  significant ingestion = you need to question.
  • A pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer is the equivalent of 2-3 shots of hard liquor.
  • Alcohol content in hand sanitizer ranges from 40% to 95%.
  • Popular hand sanitizers contain 60-70% ethyl alcohol, which is the equivalent of 120 proof and is a stronger alcohol concentration than most hard liquors. For comparison, wine contains about 10-15% and beer contains about 5-10% alcohol. The remaining alcohol is most often isopropyl alcohol, which is toxic when ingested.
  • Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion, vomiting and drowsiness and, in severe cases, respiratory arrest and death.

Safety first – if you do choose to use hand sanitizer, apply these rules:

1. Keep hand sanitizer out of reach of children and monitor its use.

2. If you use hand sanitizer, apply only a dime-sized amount to dry hands and rub hands together until they are completely dry.

3. If you suspect your child has ingested hand sanitizer, call the Poison Control Helpline at 1-800-222-1222 immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to develop. The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year for poisoning emergencies and informational calls.

If you choose not to use it, here are some safer alternatives:

1. Opt for good, old fashioned hand washing with soap and water. Hand sanitizers don’t actually clean hands. See, while they sanitize and kill germs, they don’t remove the germs, dirt or debris, so hands really aren’t clean! Handwashing with soap is the way to go for clean.

2. For on-the-go germ protection, consider non-alcohol based products or sanitizing wipes.  

3. Add essential oils for anti-bacterial support (see below to learn how).

BONUS Recipes To Make Your Own Safer Alternatives

In my household, soap and water is still the preferred method for germ fighting. It’s easy and something you do already, so consider shifting from your current soap to the one here (or one like it). If you prefer to stick with a hand sanitizing gel, I’ve included a recipe for that too – but for safety, do monitor its use with children. The ingredients are safe, but you really shouldn’t eat them!

All Natural DIY Super Soap

What you need:

  • Foaming soap pump dispenser (wash and upcycle an old one)
  • Castile soap (I love Dr. Bronner’s plain castile soap)
  • Distilled water
  • Therapeutic grade essential oils (thyme, clove, lemon or lavender are the best oils to use if you want to use only one oil, otherwise see list and great combo ideas below)


  • Fill foaming soap bottle about ⅔ with distilled water.
  • Add 3 Tablespoons of the castile soap.  
  • Add essential oils (about 30 drops).  
  • Screw on the pump and gently turn the bottle upside down a few times to combine the mixture.

Essential oils with significant antibacterial effects:

  • Balsam Fir (E.coli, Staph)
  • Chamomile – Roman & German (Staph)
  • Cinnamon (Diplococcus pneumoniae, Enterococci, E.Coli, Klebsiella, MRSA, Salmonella, Staph, Strep)
  • Clove (Diplococcus pneumoniae, Enterobacter, Enterococci, E.Coli, Klebsiella, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, MRSA, Proteus, Salmonella, Staph, Strep)
  • Cypress (E.Coli, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, MRSA, Staph, Strep)
  • Frankincense (Bacillus subtilis, Klebsiella, Mycobacterium phlei, Sarcina, Staph)
  • Geranium (Diplococcus pneumoniae, Enterobacter, Enterococci, Klebsiella, Proteus, Salmonella, Staph, Strep)
  • Grapefruit (Staph)
  • Helichrysum (Enterobacter, E.Coli, Klebsiella, Staph)
  • Lavender (Enterococci, E.Coli, Klebsiella, MRSA, Salmonella, Staph, Strep)
  • Lemon (Diplococcus pneumoniae, Enterococci, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, MRSA, Staph, Strep)
  • Lemongrass (MRSA, Staph)
  • Neroli (Enterococci, E.Coli, Klebsiella, Klebsiella, Strep)
  • Oregano (E.Coli, MRSA, Salmonella, Staph, Strep)
  • Peppermint (E.coli, Klebsiella, MRSA, Proteus, Salmonella, Staph, Strep)
  • Petitgrain (Diplococcus pneumoniae, Enterococci, H.Pylori, Staph, Strep)
  • Rosemary (Enterobacter, E.Coli, Klebsiella, MRSA)
  • Tea Tree (Enterococci, E.Coli, MRSA, Proteus, Salmonella, Staph, Strep)
  • Thyme (Diplococcus pneumoniae, Enterococci, E.Coli, Klebsiella, MRSA, Salmonella, Staph, Strep)

These are winning combinations:

  • Warming: Neroli, Clove and Cinnamon
  • Fresh: Lemon or Grapefruit and Peppermint
  • Everyday: Lavender, Lemon and Balsam Fir
  • Germ Warfare: Cinnamon, Clove, Frankincense, Tea Tree, Oregano or Thyme, Lemon
  • Sweet: Roman Chamomile and Lavender
  • Floral: Geranium and Lemongrass

All Natural DIY Germ Busting Hand Gel  

Lavender and Tea Tree are broadly antibacterial, but specifically, are effective against MRSA, Salmonella, Staph and Streptococcus strains.

You will need:

Directions: Mix thoroughly and funnel into the clean container of your choice.  

All Natural DIY Germ Busting Spray

You will need:

  • 4 ounce spray bottle
  • 2.5 – 3 ounces distilled water
  • 1 tbsp of aloe vera gel
  • 5 drops each of cinnamon, clove, rosemary and thyme essential oils
  • 10 drops of either lemon, orange or grapefruit essential oil

Directions: Pour the liquids into the spray bottle, put on the cap and secure it.  Shake to mix.

To use: Get 2 or 3 sprays in the palm of one hand, then rub together to distribute.  






Price, Shirley.  Aromatherapy for Health Professionals. Fourth Edition.  Elsevier 2012

Tisserand & Young, Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals-, 2e. Churchill Livingstone; 2013

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Sarah Lawrence

Sarah Lawrence

Certified Holistic Health Nutrition Coach at Sarah Lawrence Health
Sarah Lawrence is a Certified Holistic Health and Integrative Nutrition Coach, Speaker and Reiki Master based in Southern NH. Sarah creates lifestyle transformations by coaching her clients to shift from their current habits into healthier ones. Her philosophy is that small changes, over time, can yield big results. By developing a technique that leverages the benefits of whole foods nutritionals, seasonal detoxification, reiki, aromatherapy, meditation and life coaching, Sarah artfully combines her knowledge from years of study in the fields of chemistry, nutrition and energy healing.

Sarah leads clients from frustration due chronic health issues to elation by attaining and sustaining balanced health. Her intuitive style supports true healing on all levels. Sarah studied at Fairfield University and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition; she is pursuing her Masters in Clinical Nutrition and is dedicated to continuing her studies so she can provide the best support for her clients.
Sarah Lawrence


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