The cooler weather is upon us and I'm sure we all know someone who has come down with that first cold or flu of the season. With sneezes abounding store counters become littered with hand sanitizers declaring 'Kills 99% of Germs'. But what exactly are the chemicals doing the killing and how do they affect our health? Are there consequences to using hand sanitizers and are there holistic alternatives?
Health Impacts of 'Sanitizers'
One thing that is crucial to remember with anything we put on our skin is that up to 70% of it will be absorbed into the bloodstream. If you wouldn't want to eat the product, you probably shouldn't rub it into your skin.
The majority of hand sanitizers on the market use alcohol, triclosan and artificial fragrances. Let's take a look at how these ingredients affect our health.
Alcohol kills germs, but it also strips the natural oils your skin creates as a protective barrier, (notice how dry your hands get after using hand sanitizer?). By removing your skin's natural oil barrier, you make your skin MORE susceptible to infection.
Triclosan, an antibacterial chemical, is a very toxic ingredient that's found in numerous personal care products. This toxin has been shown to be a hormone disrupter, an allergen, a skin irritant, and an organ system toxin. Triclosan also doesn't distinguish between good and bad bacteria. The majority of bacteria on and inside our bodies are there to protect us. With every product from soap to toothpaste being infused with antibacterial chemicals we kill the good bacteria that defend us. What's worse, we also make the bad germs stronger by allowing them to develop resistance to our sanitizing chemicals and drugs. New research has shown that triclosan containing products are leading to the development of super germs. Super germs are not so super for us! They are causing us to have to develop stronger and stronger chemicals that build up in our bodies, affecting our long-term health (not to mention our ecosystems). Another issue with antibacterial products is that by preventing exposure to harmful germs, they prevent our immune system from building its natural resistance. Our acquired immune system develops the ability to fight harmful germs by being exposed to them. When everything from soap to toothpaste is antibacterial we cause our immune system to weaken.
Fragrance is a funny ingredient in the cosmetics world that can be used to hide over 3000 other ingredients! According to the Environmental Working Group, "Federal law doesn’t require companies to list on product labels any of the chemicals in their fragrance mixture. Recent research from EWG and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found an average of 14 chemicals in 17 name brand fragrance products, none of them listed on the label. Fragrances can contain hormone disruptors and are among the top 5 allergens in the world."
To find out if your products contain nasty chemicals check out the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep website. Type in the name of the product or questionable ingredients and get a safety listing. If you have a smart phone, you can use the Skin Deep mobile app and scan the barcode right in the store.
Holistic Alternatives to Hand Sanitizers
Most germs that make us get colds and flus are spread through hand contact. However, the skin on our hands has protective oils, protective bacteria and a protective acid mantle. We don't get sick from a germ being on our hand, we get sick when we touch a part of our bodies that has fewer defences, like the mucous membranes of our eyes, mouth, nose and genitals. One of the best ways to prevent illness is to avoid touching mucous membranes until you've had a chance to wash your hands. And, yes, good old fashioned hand washing is the best natural prevention. However, we want to ensure that those nasty chemicals that are hidden in hand sanitizers aren't in our soaps too! Use a natural soap without antibacterial agents to avoid developing drug-resistant superbugs.
But what about when you're out on the go and can't access a sink? Or when the only soap available is the toxic-laden, anti-bacterial kind? This is why I carry my own natural DIY Hand Sanitizer with me at all times, so I can avoid the toxic pink junk in most public bathrooms!
A fantastic natural way to remove harmful germs are essential oils. Essential oils are natural disinfectants that plants make to protect themselves from attack. These natural oils are effective against viruses, parasites, mold, yeast and other fungus. They're even being used in hospitals in Europe to deal with the superbugs synthetic chemicals have created!! Amazing, right?
DIY Hand Sanitizer Recipes
The essential oils that are most effective are thyme, cinnamon, tea tree, oregano, clove and rosemary. Other natural antimicrobial oils that also add a nice scent include peppermint, eucalyptus, lavender and lemon.
A super simple DIY Hand Sanitizer is to simply combine essential oils with distilled water or a carrier oil, like grapeseed or sweet almond and shake well before use to distribute the oils. For 1 cup, use 40 drops of either thyme, cinnamon, tea tree, oregano, clove and/or rosemary. Then add 20 drops of whatever essential oil you like for scent. This can be put into a spray bottle or pump.
If you'd like something that looks and feels more like a gel, try Andrew's version.
DIY Hand Gel
3/4 cup aloe vera gel
1/4 cup alcohol-free witch hazel
2 Tbsp glycerin
1 tsp xathan gum
20 drops thyme essential oil
20 drops rosemary essential oil
20 drops lemon essential oil
5 drops lavender essential oil
Mix all ingredients together. The xanthan gum will thicken the mixture into a gel and distribute the essential oils throughout. You can then transfer into portable containers to take with you.