Global Handwashing Day 2019: 5 side effects of hand sanitizers you didn't know about

Global Handwashing Day 2019: 5 side effects of hand sanitizers you didn't know about
While hand sanitizing is considered a good habit, it can have side-effects. © Shutterstock

The habit of using a hand sanitizer might seem hygienic but that doesn't mean there's no downside to it. Hand sanitizer might be posing a threat to your health. On Global Handwashing Day, let's see why washing hands is still better than using sanitizers.

Written by Sukriti Shahi |Published : October 15, 2019 12:17 PM IST

Global Handwashing Day was founded by Global Handwashing Partnership and it was celebrated in 2008 for the time. Observed on 15 October every year, it's a platform created to advocate, create and test new ways to encourage people to wash hands. Global handwashing Day 2019 theme is 'Clean Hands for All' which means being inclusive while dealing with handwashing disparities.

It also advocates the fact that handwashing with soap and water is the easiest, most effective and an affordable way to prevent serious diseases and infections. Going by the ethos of this day, it's important to think about alternative ways, like hand sanitizers, to clean hands. As the motto of the Global Handwashing Day is to encourage washing hands with soap and water, what's it about hand sanitizers that we are ignoring? Why is a soap and water rinse still a better option than a hand sanitizer? It's because of the side-effects they have.


It's portable and definitely a saviour when you get stuck in a situation where regular handwashing is nearly impossible. It's better than eating with dirty hands to be at least satisfied that you sanitized them with a sanitizer. Hand sanitizer is now commonly used in hospitals, offices, public washrooms, restaurants and at home, places where using hand is still possible

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In the humdrum of today's life a hand sanitizer is an easy and extremely functional alternative to hand washing. However, triclosan, a common active ingredient found in hand sanitizers that is beneficial in killing microbes found on hands, may also lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A 2018 study published in the journal Environment International found this out. There are other side effects of hand sanitizers too, that you need to be aware of.

Alcohol poisoning

The smell of a hand sanitizer is enough to tell that it contains alcohol. Just because it's for hygiene, doesn't mean it's completely safe. Most of the hand sanitizers have alcohol as an active ingredient which kills bacteria. Though, the quantities of the alcohol present in a sanitizer are fixed, it can still cause poisoning. Experts believe that a few squirts of a hand sanitizer are equal to a couple of alcohol shots. Now this can be dangerous, especially for kids. While it can be an alternative, make sure to use it in a limited amount.

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics are helpful against the growth of bacteria in body. But what if your body develops a resistance against it? Or in turn develops bacteria that's resistant to antibiotics? Yes, that could be a possible threat of using hand sanitizers. The active ingredient Triclosan present in hand sanitizers is responsible for the development of antibiotic resisting bacteria. So, in a way, using hand sanitizers to keep diseases away may impact otherwise. It can kill good bacteria that help in fighting diseases. This means lower resistance towards diseases and infections.

Hormonal disruption

Triclosan has other side-effect it's responsible for hormonal disruption in body. A few studies say that this compound cause bacteria to adapt to its antimicrobial conditions. This further causes antibiotic-resistant strain leading to hormonal fluctuations in body. This has raised serious concerns among health professional regarding the use of hand sanitizers. They believe that any disruption to the natural environment inside the body has detrimental health effects. This hormonal imbalance can lead to infections and diseases.

Weaker immune system

Our immune system work on a different programming it's auto-tuned to fight diseases. It reacts actively against diseases when disease causing bacteria or viruses attack the body. In a situation of extreme clean environment, immune system in a way find no harmful entity to work against. And therefore, it results in its weaker performance. Studies show if a human is exposed to such clean conditions early on life, it contributes to weaker defence by immune system at the later stage. Researchers at University of Michigan School of Public Health found that triclosan can negatively impact immune system functioning. The study showed that higher levels of triclosan in children and teens led to hay fever and allergy susceptibility in them.

Adverse impact on skin and promotes ageing

The alcohols most commonly found in hand sanitizers are isopropyl, ethanol, and n-propanol. These alcohols are also responsible for drying out the skin. They strip away the natural oils of the skin and also cause irritation. The acid present in hand sanitizers dehydrate skin cells and may also lead to contact dermatitis. In a long run, it can also damage skin cells.

Use of hand sanitizers may also lead to ageing of the hand's skin. Dry skin and dehydration can cause callous formation, flaky skin, wrinkles and cracks. Increased dehydration can also kill the natural barrier of the skin against infections. This means reduced ability of skin to protect itself leading to increase in dehydration and dry skin.