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Hand Sanitiser: Risks Associated With Too Much Use Of It

COVID-19 needs extra protection and safety. It requires hand hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus. With the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic, the use of hand sanitiser, gels and soaps have increased. Though hand sanitiser is effective against bacteria and viruses, there are certain limits up to which it is considered safe.

There are several cases of hand sanitiser causing burns and severe skin problems to people. This is because of the alcohol content, high product use and unawareness of its proper technique. Take a look at a few risks associated with the use of handsanitisers. Also, avoid its excessive usage to prevent health hazards associated with it.

What Is Hand Sanitiser?

Hand sanitiser is considered the best alternative to cleaning hands with soap and water. It is a simple, quick, convenient and portable method to disinfect our hands when there is no running water available around us.

There are usually two types of sanitisers: alcohol and non-alcohol based. In non-alcoholic sanitiser, benzalkonium chloride is the active compound, which is non-flammable and non-toxic. It is easier on hands as well as provide protection against germs. Also, non-alcoholic sanitiser possesses low threat when accidentally ingested or comes in contact with fire. However, studies suggest that these sanitisers are less effective in preventing the transmission of pathogens. [1]

Alcohol-based sanitiser is widely used by people and healthcare workers. It contains alcoholic ingredients such as isopropanol, n-propanol, ethanol or the combination of any two of them. Usually, it is made of 60-85 per cent ethanol due to its strong antimicrobial activity.

According to a study, the use of hand sanitiser reduces colonisation and hand infection, specifically in healthcare workers. It decreases the transmission of infections to patients, ultimately reducing their mortality rate. The study also suggests that every year hand sanitisers reduce the transmission of pathogens in around 1.4 million patients worldwide. [2]

Why Is Hand Sanitiser Considered Harmful?

Apart from the alcohol, hand sanitisers also contain another active ingredient called triclosan or TCS. It is an antibacterial and antifungal agent which is used in large personal care products like soaps, toothpaste, deodorants and skin creams. Though the compound is effective against germs and microbes, excessive use of it every day can be harmful.

Fire Hazard Of Hand Sanitiser

Most of the hand sanitiser contains a high volume of ethanol or ethyl alcohol for protection against different kinds of microbes. Ethyl alcohol is a kind of colourless flammable liquid that gives a pungent smell to hand sanitisers. At room temperature, it readily evaporates into an ignitable vapour and catches fire easily if accidentally comes in contact with heat.

Considering the fire hazard of alcohol-based hand sanitiser, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has specific guidelines for its safe use. They are as follows:

  • Before using alcoholic sanitiser, make sure to remove all the ignition sources around you to prevent the possibility of fire.
  • If the sanitiser accidentally falls somewhere, it should be immediately cleaned with water.
  • It should be stored in areas which are away from heat, sparks, ignition, flames, switches or extreme heat.
  • Do not allow children to use it excessively. It should be given to children only under the proper supervision of adults.
  • Avoid keeping it in areas which are easily accessible to children.

Chemical Hazard On Skin

According to a study published in a journal Environment International, 30-days continuous exposure of hand sanitiser can develop resistance against bacteria. They alsopossess negative effects on the skin which can be dangerous. As per the instruction of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA), here are a few dangers associated with hand sanitiser.

  • The harsh chemical or antimicrobial agents in sanitiser may give burning sensation or cause itching on the skin.
  • Excessive use of it can dry out the upper layer of the skin, causing it to peel.
  • It may make your skin sensitivity to UV rays and cause sunburn.
  • Triclosan can get deep inside your skin and enter the bloodstream causing an allergic reaction.
  • Excessive use of sanitiser can decrease the body's ability to fight outside infections due to the development of resistant strains.
  • It cannot properly clean the sugar and fats that stay on your hands after eating foods. Chances are they may get transferred to your face or eyes and cause infection.

Other Hazards

  • It may cause alcohol poisoning if accidentally drunk children.
  • It may lead to hormonal disruptions inside the body due to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
  • Chemical agents in sanitiser may interfere with the functionality of the immune system.
  • Synthetic fragrances in sanitiser also contain loads of chemicals and may cause gene alteration in humans.
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