It used to be that kids would just wash their hands with soap and water at school. But now, they’re being asked to use hand sanitizer, and that’s a problem. Most hand sanitizing products contain synthetic fragrances and some contain a chemical called triclosan. Synthetic fragrances may be embedded with phthalates, a chemical cocktail that can trigger allergies in kids, including asthma and eczema, reports the National Institutes of Health. Triclosan is supposed to kill germs. But doctors worry that the antimicrobial agents in triclosan might actually reduce our ability to fight bacteria and limit the effectiveness of antibiotics, plus trigger health problems in kids.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say unequivocally that “washing hands with soap and water is the best way” to reduce the presence of germs, as well as get rid of dirt and grime.
If soap and water are not available, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. When you shop online or in a store, read the label before you buy any hand sanitizing product. In addition to having an alcohol content of 60% or more, choose a sanitizer that is free of triclosan phthalates, fragrances, and parabens, endocrine-disrupting chemicals which are sometimes added as a preservative as well as an antimicrobial. Big Green Purse has listed five triclosan-free hand sanitizers here if you want to get an idea of what’s available commercially.
Hand sanitizers come as foams, gels, sprays, and wipes. All of these work equally well as long as they contain 60% alcohol, reports the Berkeley Wellness website at the University of California. Applying hand sanitizer to dirty hands maybe not be effective, since the dirt creates a barrier that hand sanitizers can’t penetrate. It’s better to wash hands first, then use the sanitizer if you’re going to use it all.
One problem with alcohol is that it can dry out skin. When you buy, look for sanitizers that contain aloe vera, coconut oil, or other plant-based oils to provide a moisturizer.
What you need:
- 2/3 cup 99% rubbing alcohol
- 1/3 cup aloe vera gel
What to do:
- Pour the ingredients into a small glass jar with a lid and shake vigorously until the ingredients are well mixed.
- Then pour into a clean, empty liquid soap bottle with a pump dispenser, or into a smaller travel-sized bottle for your purse, backpack or briefcase.
- Dispense only about a dime-sized amount on the palm of your hand, then rub the sanitizer over both your hands, front and back. Remember, this works best on hands that have already been washed.
- The mixture should keep for about 6 months.
Want some fragrance? Add a few drops of organic essential oils, such as lavender, lemon, vanilla or rose. Smell your mixture as you add the oils to be sure you don’t overdo it. When you’re done, try a dab of the mixture on your skin to make sure it doesn’t irritate you.
DIY Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizer
If you prefer a sanitizer that contains no rubbing alcohol, Tiffany Washko of Nature Moms gave us permission to reprint her recipe:
What you need:
- 1/4 cup aloe gel
- 1/4 cup witch hazel
- 1 T apple cider vinegar
- 1 t vegetable glycerin
- 8-10 drops Thieves oil or Malaleuca alternifolia, also known as tea tree oil.
What to do:
Put in a jar and shake well, then transfer to an empty, clean liquid soap dispenser with a pump.
By the way, soap may contain the same synthetic fragrances and antimicrobial compounds that hand sanitizers do. Ronnie Citron-Fink, the editor of the Moms Clean Air Force website, offers links to three recipes for safe soap you can make at home. They include shea butter soap, liquid hand soap, and felted soap. Give ’em a try!
Editorial Note: Last week, the FDA banned triclosan from consumer soap. We applaud this step towards cleaning up personal care products.