Some sanitizers may do more harm than good
Handwashing, an integral part of disease prevention, works best when you scrub with soap and water for 24 seconds (the length of one verse of “Old McDonald Had a Farm” or “Happy Birthday” sung twice).
But when soap and water aren’t available, hand sanitizer is easier in a pinch. Plus it protects against the flu and E. coli, right?
Not so fast, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though your hands may feel clean after a hand-sanitizer squirt, they’re most likely still dirty.
One concern with hand sanitizers is triclosan, the main antibacterial ingredient. “There’s no good evidence that triclosan-containing products have a benefit,” says Allison Aiello, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan.
Research in animals shows triclosan disrupts the endocrine system, reduces muscle strength and could harm the immune system. The FDA is reviewing whether the same damage happens to humans.
Worse, triclosan actually might lower your resistance to disease. “When you expose bacteria to triclosan, it can elicit antibiotic resistance,” Aiello says. “Once the resistance is transferred, bacteria can become resistant to many types of antibiotics.”
Even worse: Triclosan, designed to protect against bacteria, doesn’t protect against viruses. The common cold is caused by a virus.
Our advice: Ditch triclosan-based sanitizers.
Do check the labels, though. Alcohol-based sanitizers are effective and safe against bacteria and some viruses. “If you can’t get to a sink quickly,” Aiello says, “an alcohol-based sanitizer is a good alternative.”