Ethan, along with countless kids across the state of Texas, went back to school this morning. [Sniff, sniff.] While I was preparing his school supplies and trying to minimize his exposure to toxic chemicals, I got to thinking about hand sanitizers. What’s in them? And, are those ingredients dangerous for our kids?
Thinking along these lines, I sought additional information. I knew that we wanted to avoid Triclosan (which is a chemical in many hand soaps) because it can be very harmful to sensitive systems, but I wasn’t sure if it was a concern in hand sanitizers, or if there was something else I should be concerned about…so I reached out to one of my favorite organizations: Women’s Voices for the Earth. We all want our kids to stay healthy while they’re at school – and so do the teachers, nurses and administrators. In Ethan’s school, they even have wall-mounted dispensers for hand sanitizing gel; yet another good reason to educate myself (so I can ask informed questions)!
Alexandra Scranton, the Director of Science and Research for WVE was happy to help me figure out what is important when selecting hand sanitizers (or asking about them at your child’s school). Alex said, “The research on how effective hand sanitizers are in preventing illness is really mixed. The bottom line appears to be that regular handwashing with regular non-antibacterial soap is far and away the most effective way to prevent illness (like colds and flu and even gastrointestinal diseases).” But, understanding that kids can’t always get to a sink to wash, Alex suggested that use of hand sanitizers can be a good backup, “probably better than not doing anything at all.”
With that noted, Alex shared that there are two main kinds of hand sanitizers on the market: alcohol-based and alcohol-free. She helped me understand some of the Pros and Cons for each.
Alcohol-based Hand Sanitizer Pros:
• Works relatively well
• No harsh, worrisome chemicals
• Easy to find
• Alcohol de-activates lots of disease-causing organisms, but not in a way that leads to growth of antibacterial resistant organisms (i.e. super bugs)
Alcohol-based Hand Sanitizer Cons:
• Ingestion can be problematic (alcohol poisoning if kids swallow enough)
• Wall-mounted dispensers could pose a fire risk as alcohol is inherently flammable
Alcohol-free Hand Sanitizer Pros:
• Some versions (like from CleanWell with thyme oil as an active ingredient) are very effective
Alcohol-free Hand Sanitizer Cons:
• Many have ammonium quaternary compounds (“quats”) as the active ingredient (like benzalkonium chloride) which is associated with asthma
• Benzalkonium choloride has been shown to promote growth of resistant bacteria (super bugs)
• Not always easy to find
So, like with so many other things these days, it is worth reading ingredients carefully and considering what your child is using (if anything) on a regular basis. I haven’t yet approached Ethan’s school with this question, but I plan to do so very soon!
Also, just FYI: a product I found this summer that we like to use when we’re out and about without access to a sink is the Whole Foods Market 365 Everyday Value Brand Peppermint Hand Sanitizer Spray. While we’ve tried the CleanWell thyme-based products, and I liked them alright, Ethan is averse to the thymey-smells. But, the 365 peppermint version (with Alcohol, Aloe Leaf Juice, Purified Water, Glycerin and Peppermint Essential Oil) is much preferred by Ethan’s sensitive nose, and makes me think of fresh mint that used to grow in my grandmother’s yard each summer; so I like it, too!
Special thanks to Alexandra Scranton and WVE for helping me figure out exactly what I needed to know on this topic, so I can be a well-informed consumer and advocate for Ethan’s health and well being. For more information about WVE or about disinfectants in general, click HERE.
Leigh Attaway Wilcox is a writer and editor for the projectLD family of companies. Leigh is Assistant Editor of the internationally acclaimed AutismSpot.com and her work can be found on many of the pLDNetworks sites. Leigh is the author of ALL BETTER: A Touch-and-Heal Book published by Piggy Toes Press in 2007. Leigh lives in North Texas with her husband and young son who loves reading, LEGOs, Mario Bros. and also happens to live with Asperger's Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder.