Do Hand Sanitizers Work?

You’re at a festival and are about to dig in to a mouth-watering turkey burger on an artisan multigrain bun with a side of sweet potato fries and suddenly the thought hits you:

“When did I last wash my hands?”

If you’re like me the answer that comes back is that you don’t remember.  What do you do?  You reach for your handy bottle of hand sanitizer, and then you devour that turkey burger.

But, how do you know that hand sanitizer works?  Are you really cleaning your hands, or are you just putting another layer of…whatever that is on your hands?  Well, I’ve done the research for you.  You should know that there’s good news and bad news.

The good news.  There are hand sanitizers that have been proven to work even better than soap and water in most situations.

The bad news.  There are other hand sanitizers that haven’t been proven to work and/or potentially have some really terrible side effects.

To Alcohol or Not To Alcohol…That Is The Question.

There are two different types of hand sanitizers and they work in two completely different ways.  You’ve got Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers, and you’ve got Alcohol-Free Antimicrobial Hand Sanitizers.

Alcohol-free sanitizers work like a key that fits into a lock.  If it’s at the right house it will lock the door and keep the troublemakers from getting out.  It only kills bacteria and viruses, but not fungus.  It has either not been proven to work any better than washing with soap and water in real world conditions, and/or it carries with it the potential for some very serious side-effects.

Alcohol does things a little differently.  Like a drunk who can’t find their keys in

Alcohol doesn’t mess around.

the dark it just kicks down the door and trashes the place before it realizes that it is at its neighbor’s house.  It works on a wide range of micro-organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and funghi.  It has been proven to work, and only has a few side-effects.  We’ll talk more about those later.  However, these side-effects have opened up the market for alcohol-free antimicrobial hand sanitizers.

Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers

Between the two types of hand sanitizers the CDC recommends alcohol-based hand sanitizers.  You just need to make sure that the one you’re using has more than 60% alcohol or it isn’t strong enough to do the job.  It works by dissolving proteins in the cell walls, but it doesn’t work in all situations.  If your hands are visibly dirty it is best to wash your hands.  Using an antimicrobial soap has been shown to be more effective when your hands are heavily soiled, and there are some drawbacks that you should he aware of.  We’ll go over those in a minute.

Alcohol-Free Antimicrobial Hand Sanitizers

As I said earlier alcohol-free antimicrobial hand sanitizers only works on most bacteria and viruses, but not fungi.  The active ingredient that does all the sanitizing is usually either Triclosan/Triclocarban, or Benzalkonium Chloride.

Triclosan/Triclocarban works by inhibiting fatty acid synthesis in the cell walls.  That’s a fancy

Benzalkonium Chloride! I’m melting!

way of saying that you’ve taped it’s mouth (and butt) shut with duct tape and then left it starve.  Benzalkonium Chloride works by destabilizing the cell membrane of the micro-organism.  It basically causes the cell to melt like you just threw water on the Wicked Witch of the West.  Both have some pretty serious side effects.

The Ugly Side of Staying Too Clean

According to a first of its kind study done by Northwestern University, children who used hand sanitizer had weaker immune systems as adults.  I think I just heard a collective gasp from helicopter moms everywhere.  It turns out we need dirty little microbes to help our immune system develop.  Practice makes perfect.  That’s not the worst of it either.  Not only will our immune system be weaker, but it will misfire possibly leading to asthma and allergic sensitization.

Ok, so using hand sanitizers as children suppresses our immune system as adults and makes us more allergic and asthmatic. That’s all, right?  Sorry to say it isn’t.  Perhaps you’ve heard of BPA’s?  They are those nasty chemicals that mimic estrogen and can cause breast and prostate cancer, genital defects in males, early onset of puberty in females, obesity, and ADHD.  Ya, those things!  There’s a lot of this stuff, going around and it’s in a lot of things making it difficult to avoid.  One place that it lurks has gotten a lot of attention.  It is on receipt paper, and you can absorb it through your skin!

Anticipation koala
No more handling receipt paper!

Hand sanitizers make the skin more permeable and increase the rate of absorption.  To be fair, most lotions have the same effect.  In a study done where two groups of participants were asked to handle receipt paper – one with dry hands and the other after using hand sanitizer – the group who had used the hand sanitizer showed ten times the amount of BPAs in their blood and urine.

“Ok, ok…so does the bad news stop there?” you ask.  Ha!  Not even close.

The Ugly Side of Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers

As I mentioned earlier alcohol-based hand sanitizers have a few drawbacks.  In fact, these drawbacks opened up the market for the alcohol-free antimicrobial hand sanitizers.  However, as you’ll find out in a minute the side-effects of alcohol aren’t so bad when compared to the monster lurking behind their alternative.

Contact Dermatitis

The problem is that alcohol is an irritant and frequent use can cause contact dermatitis.  Detergents also do this, so frequent washing with soap and water is no better.  Contact dermatitis is a nasty condition that causes:

The “Nurse’s Allergy” (contact dermatitis associated with frequent hand washing and use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers) is a condition that affects approximately 50% of nurses.  This is why most alcohol-based hand sanitizers now contain moisturizing ingredients.  However, sometimes even that is not enough and using a strong, natural moisturizer like Chickie Gold Moisturizer to counteract the drying effect of alcohol-based hand sanitizers becomes important.

Alcohol Poisoning

It’s ok, you can laugh at the thought of getting drunk off of too much hand sanitizer.  However, it’s no laughing matter.  Poison control centers have drunkmememanaged over 17,000 cases of exposure to hand sanitizer by children under 12 since 2010.  Hand sanitizers usually contain 60% or more alcohol.  Just to give you some perspective, most hard liquors contain 40% alcohol.  That pretty much puts hand sanitizers into the same category as Moonshine.  It’s no wonder teens are being hospitalized after getting drunk off of hand sanitizer.

Other Stuff

The alcohol itself is not so bad.  But many alcohol-based hand sanitizers use other ingredients to give their products the right consistency, texture, or fragrance that can possibly have some serious side effects.  Aminomethyl propanol, an ingredient used in the leading brand of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, Purell, is an endocrine disruptor.  You read about that last week.

The Ugly Side of Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizers

Since alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause contact dermatitis, as well as pose a risk for small children and teenagers getting chocolate wasted off of it, some companies have started to develop alcohol-free versions.  I spoke about what those were earlier.  The problem with them is that the side-effects of alcohol-free antimicrobial hand sanitizers make the previous two look about as scary as a pair of sleeping kittens.

Hormone Disruption

Alcohol-Free Antimicrobial Hand Sanitizers contain ingredients that can disrupt hormones.  Hormones are chemicals that travel around in your body and regulate complex processes.  Screwing around with them is not a good thing.  Last week we pointed that out in our ARTICLE CONCERNING ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS.  Triclosan/Triclocarban, phthalates, and parabens just happen to be chemicals that mimic hormones and they are used in many hand sanitizers.


According to a statement released by the FDA, frequent use of Triclosan/Triclocarban may cause alterations in thyroid, reproductive, growth, and developmental systems of neonatal and adolescent animals.


Phthalates are used as a solvent.  A solvent is something you put something else in to dilute it.  Coffee and tea use water as a solvent.  The problem with phthalates is that they may have some serious side-effects including altered semen quality, testicular cancer, shortened gestation, reduced anogenital distance in baby boys, premature breast development in young girls, ovarian cysts, asthma, and the list goes on and on and on.


Parabens are used as a preservative.  (I know I find it funny too that hand sanitizers use preservatives.  It’s a sanitizer!  Why does a sanitizer need a preservative?!?)  They mimic the hormone estrogen and may be linked to breast cancer.

Antibiotic Resistance

Incase you thought hormone disruption was bad enough, there’s more good news.  (Did you sense my sarcasm?)  Not only can alcohol-free sanitizers discombobulate your complex system of hormonal regulation, it can breed micro-organisms that are immune to antibiotics.  They are commonly known as “Super Bugs” and they are scary.

Frequent use of both Triclosan/Triclocarban and Benzalkonium Chloride can cause micro-organisms to adapt.  This means that we pretty much can’t kill them with our current capabilities.  Alcohol-based hand sanitizers don’t have this problem because they work in a completely different way as we talked about earlier.

Weighing Your Options

Futurama-Fry V2On the alcohol-based side you have contact dermatitis and alcohol poisoning.  Not to mention the other stuff that may be in there that has nothing to do with the actual sanitizing action that is going on.  On the alcohol-free side you have hormone disruption and antibiotic resistance.   Neither option is really appealing.  What if I told you there was a third option?  An option that doesn’t have any of those side-effects?  Well you’re in luck because there is.

The Legend of The Four Thieves

As legend goes there were four thieves who robbed wealthy victims of the black plague in Marseilles, France.  Upon being arrested they agreed to divulge their secret for how they were able to protect themselves from the disease in exchange for leniency.

This formula became known as the Four Thieves Vinegar.  It’s ingredients are believed to have been rosemary, sage, lavender, camphor, garlic, and cloves.  Banished to the realm of magic potions and sorcery, recently science has shed light on how this formula actually did protect the four thieves from the bubonic plague.

Both rosemary and clove oil have been tested for their anti-bacterial properties and “both essential oils possessed significant antimicrobial effects against all microorganisms tested.”  Both sage and camphor “exhibited remarkable bacteriostatic and bactericidal activities.”  Garlic has been found to be “better than antibiotics.”  Clove oil has “marked germicidal effect against various bacteria.”  Science backs up this centuries old remedy.  Apparently there is a third option, after all.

The Third Option

Hazel Berra Hand SanitizerNature offers us natural sanitizers that don’t have the side-effects that come with either the alcohol-based or the alcohol-free formulas.  This is why we developed the Hazel Berra Hand Sanitizer.  Inspired by the Four Thieves formula this hand sanitizer contains the antibacterial properties that are in nature. Unlike alcohol-based formulas that can give you contact dermatitis this formula is nourishing for the skin.   Your little ones can’t get drunk off it, either.  Unlike the alcohol-free formulas this powerful antibacterial relies on natural essences that don’t create antibacterial resistance, and doesn’t disrupt your hormones.  It does have side effects, but they are good side-effects like toned, hydrated, and nourished skin.

It’s a No-Brainer

Now that you know how hand sanitizers work, and all about the ugly side of them, will you make the switch?  I’ll bet that you will.  You can purchase Hazel Berra Hand Sanitizer at along with many other great products that we developed to keep toxins out of your body.  It’s really a no-brainer.

If there is anything that you would like me to talk about feel free to reach out to me either here via email:, on twitter @kaiyanaturals, or on Facebook @kaiyanaturals.  Also  please, please, please share or comment on this article.  Seriously, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section below.

Stay Natural,

Farmer Ked

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  For educational purposes only.

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