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Does over-sanitizing cause problems in health?

Avoiding germs and keeping your hands clean is never a bad thing. Many common illnesses can be contracted through germs picked up through person-to-person contact or from counter tops, doorknobs, and other shared surfaces. By using hand sanitizer regularly, you can not only decrease your risk for contracting other germs, but also decrease the risk of sharing your own. 

The importance of hand washing

Washing with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on your hands. Although they do not eliminate all types of germs, alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol should be used if soap and water are not available. Also, hand sanitizers are not effective enough when your hands are visibly dirty, so if you have ever had an allergic reaction, use the hand sanitizer only when it can actually be effective.

Use the sanitizer sparingly

Antibacterial hand sanitizers may cause skin sensitivity in the form of itching, burning sensation or dry skin. In order to be effective, most forms of the sanitizer contain alcohol, which can easily cause redness, dryness and even peeling of skin, especially if used too often. You should not use antibacterial hand sanitizer over large areas of the body, but rather keep the use limited to hand sanitizing only. Areas of the body to especially avoid using antibacterial hand sanitizer on include your eyes, ears, mouth, nose and genital areas. Also be sure not to use the cleanser on a baby or very young child because the sensitivity and susceptibility of skin irritation in very young children. Avoid hand sanitizers that contain any harsh chemicals, like bleach.

How to use it correctly

For hand sanitizer to be effective, you must use it correctly. Always apply the hand sanitizer directly into a dry palm, making sure you use enough to cover the entire surface of your hand. Once you have applied the hand sanitizer, rub your hands together until the sanitizer has been absorbed and the entire surface of your hand is dry. Although small amounts of hand sanitizer will not cause harm if ingested, it is best to avoid contact with your mouth or eyes until after the hand sanitizer has evaporated.

How to prevent an allergic reaction

Besides choosing fragrance-free sanitizer and choosing to wash hands with soap and water whenever possible, there are a few additional things you can do to prevent an allergic reaction. One is to rinse hands with bottled water after leaving the hand sanitizer on your hands for a few minutes. Another option is to bring wet wipes and hand sanitizer if you know you will be in a situation without running water and soap. After leaving the sanitizer on your hands a few minutes, wipe the residual off with a wet wipe. Your best bet overall, though, is to choose a hand sanitizer with as few chemicals as possible.

It is important to note that while hand sanitizer can be an effective disinfectant, it should not be the only method. Some viruses or diseases can be immune to sanitizer. That is why traditional hand washing is so important. Do not think of hand sanitizers as a replacement, think of them as a supplement.

Let your body fight

Using antibacterial hand sanitizer can have the side effect of increasing your body’s susceptibility to infection instead of protecting against infection. There is both a possible increase of antibiotic resistance and decreased ability to fight infection with continued use of hand sanitizers.

Keep in mind that while protecting yourself and your immune system from illness is important, it is also important to make sure your body is exposed to some germs. By over-cleaning your hands and protecting yourself too much, you could actually be increasing your chances of getting sick by not allowing your body the opportunity to be exposed to bacteria or germs. A little sniffling and sneezing now and then can actually be good for you. And remember: using hand sanitizers does not replace hand washing.