How Safe is Your Hand Sanitizer?

How Safe is Your Hand Sanitizer?

Alisa Opar
Published: 12/08/2009

Hand sanitizer dispensers seem to be popping up everywhere. The drug store; the lobby to my office building; the pizza joint around the corner. Of course, nobody wants to catch the flu, and experts say that washing your hands often with soap and water is one of the best defenses; if there’s no sink nearby, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can do the trick. Ok, so these products contain alcohol…but the plethora of brands out there has me wondering what else is in them, and if they all have the same ingredients. Lucky for us, the folks at Environmental Working Group have done the heavy lifting through their Skin Deep program.

All you need to do is visit their website, enter the hand sanitizer you use, and see what, if any, risks it poses to your health. The Purell in our lobby, for instance, scored a 5: ‘moderate hazard’ on a scale of 1 to 10.

According to EWG’s research, ingredients in the product are linked to: cancer; developmental/reproductive toxicity; allergies/immunotoxicity; neurotxicity; irritation. You get the idea.

The user-friendly database also allows you to search by lowest to highest hazard risk. Now that I’m in the know, I’ll probably buy a gel that received a lower score to carry around in my purse. In a pinch, though, I’m sure I’ll use whatever is available, as my concern about infrequent exposure to toxins is outweighed by my dread of getting influenza, hands down.