Are We Hand Sanitizing Ourselves to Sickness?

With September already half over, the kids are back to school by now and the fall routine has begun. Along with homework, extra curricular activities and going from soccer practice to piano lessons, the young ones are around lots of other people, often in close quarters and it just takes one child to start coughing before a cold bug goes turns epidemic. And it’s not just the kids; coworkers at the office are coughing, the clerk at the grocery store is sneezing and the passenger next to us on a plane is sniffling up a storm! So what do we do? We send the kids to school with tiny bottles of hand sanitizer gel, keep anti bacterial wipes in our cars and spray the heck out of anything that comes in contact with another human, right?
The cleaner the better? Admittedly, as a confessed over the top clean freak / Virgo, I used to believe in this line of thinking. And while I still keep a tidy home, I no longer feel the need to constantly disinfect everything. Why? In a word: awareness. Way back when I was in culinary school, the very first class I took was called Safety and Sanitation. 
Guess what the main topics were? In the very first lecture, our teacher shared with us how ineffective hand sanitizers actually are when compared to good, old fashioned hand washing with plan soap. That lecture stuck with me for quite a long time as a good reason not to rely on a spray, gel or towelette in lieu of soap and water. If it doesn’t work as well, why not just use soap and water? But not too long ago, it became evident that it’s not just an issue of ineffectiveness; the more frightening issue is that these products are actually dangerous. I’m not referring to a rash for those who react, or dry skin from those who might be likely to over do. Rather, the concern is the impact the ingredients may have on our eyes, our skin… and our unborn babies! Benzalkonium chloride, which is in a range of products from burn treatments to spermicides to floor cleaners, possesses antimicrobial properties. In animal studies, benzalkonium chloride had lethal effects on rodents when taken orally in repeated large doses, according to the European Medicines Agency (1). The FDA is presently investigating whether or not sanitizers might be harmful to pregnant women and children. Their main concerns are based on those of the agency’s independent advisory committee, which reviewed scientific data on these ingredients. However, the federal agency has not called for the products to be removed from the market. Hmmm… sound familiar? Fortunately, the FDA did recently issue a ban on some of the toxins: triclosan and triclocarban. In 2013, after enough research suggested that these and other antiseptic ingredients may contribute to bacterial resistance or disrupt hormones when used long term, the FDA called for manufacturers to provide data that would support their continued use (2) . (Some companies just started the processes of changing their formulas right then and there.) The data submitted to the agency was insufficient to deem the ingredients Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective (GRAS/GRAE) for consumers. As a result, companies will no longer be allowed to market products with these ingredients. What’s worse, the data also failed to show that these antibacterial ingredients do anything more than washing with plain soap and water. “Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement. In fact, most germ experts agree that washing properly for 20 seconds with warm water and soap is the best way to stop the spread of germs. So not only were we delivered a product and told it was safe and effective, neither of which wee accurate, we never needed to expose ourselves to these toxins in the first place! One more perfect example of the need for us each to be mindful of what we’re putting on our bodies, just as much as what we’re putting in them! (1) “Is Your Hand Sanitizer Safe? The FDA Wants to Know.” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2016 (2) Marturana, Amy. “The FDA Bans Triclosan And 18 Other Ingredients In Crackdown On So-Called Antibacterial Soaps.” SELF. N.p., 02 Sept. 2016. Web. 20 Sept. 2016