They are our trusted first and second lines of hygiene defense. They are germs’ exterminators. They are remarkably efficient cleansers and keeping countless millions of Americans on their feet and healthy during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
We all know of what soap and hand sanitizer do, but what exactly are these super germ fighter we turn to numerous times per day to keep our hands free of harmful germs, bacteria and pathogens comprised of?
In an age when not all Coronavirus prevention methods are created equal, it’s important to know the exact ingredients of the soap and sanitizer we trust to keep us healthy and safe. For you can’t take Mystery Ingredient Number 11’s word alone that it can safely sanitize your hands.
A Gallop May 2021 worldwide poll of people in 118 countries found 58 percent reporting they washed their hands with soap and water – or used hand sanitizer – five or more times the previous day. But what are we cleaning our hands with? Let’s unravel the mystery of these all-important hygiene tools.
The secret and the truth of soap and sanitizers’ effectiveness lies in the Product Label. When deciding which sanitizer is best for you, look first at the active ingredient: the ingredient performing the sanitizing. Ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol are approved and endorsed by the World Health Organization as safe active hand sanitizer ingredients.
To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, let’s start with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s official recommendation: “If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.”
The Soap Story
Hand soap’s cleansing power begins with its active ingredient: Surfactant. This ingredient chemically modifies the properties of water to make it a more effective cleanser. Surfactant also dissolves soils and emulsifies greasy substances. Soap’s cleansing ability is strengthened by builder ingredients like complex phosphates and sodium compounds that increase its effectiveness. These builders remove minerals from the water by chelation or precipitation. They also help remove grease and bond with soil particles, preventing them from resetting on the skin.
The acidic nature of soil and grease requires a counter agent to clean hands more effectively: Enter Alkalis. Hand soap contains these ingredients like ammonium hydroxide, ethanolamines and sodium compounds to increase the alkalinity and counteract the acidity of the other ingredients.
Then there’s soap’s closer agent: Antibacterial Agents. These ingredients (which include ammonium products, hydrogen peroxide, triclosan and certain plant oils like pine oil) kill bacteria. Antimicrobial agents are also essential for hand soap because touching spreads most contagious illnesses. Frequent handwashing with antibacterial soap greatly lessens the risk of disease.
The Toxic List
For hand sanitizer, these are the black list items to watch out for. Do not trust or use any sanitizer containing these ingredients:
- Artificial Dyes: Commonly derived from petroleum, popularly used dyes include Blue 1, Red 40 and Yellow 5. These friendly names hide the potential harmful effects of artificial dyes including hastened dermal absorption in damaged skin, allergic reactions and hyperactivity when ingested.
- Parabens: Ingredients used to preserve products, they aren’t as effective at sanitizing. Parabens prevent the growth of microorganisms but also carry toxicity concerns.
- Undisclosed Fragrance: Any ingredient not listed by a full clear name shouldn’t be trusted. Without the ingredients listed, we can’t know for certain what’s inside.
- Polyethylene Glycol Compounds (PEGs): Popular because of their thickening, softening and penetration-enhancing properties, PEGs are created by a process called ethoxylation, which means they are likely contaminated with carcinogens like ethylene oxide or 1, 4 dioxane.
Other Universal Truths of Soap and Hand Sanitizer
Don’t DIY It: With the U.S.’s soap and hand sanitizer supply chain in strong shape, we do not recommend moonshine soap or sanitizer, whose ingredients list can be as trustworthy as a fortune cookie.
Hand Sanitizer Does Not Create Superbugs: In a time of crazy misconceptions, let’s eradicate a popular one on hand sanitizer: hand sanitizer does not create super bugs. Sanitizers do not create super bugs and enable the transmission and spread of the coronavirus. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers like Avant contain ethanol, which destroys cell walls and evaporate quickly from the skin. This means bacteria do not have the ability to fight back and build resistance.
So how can you correctly choose an effective and safe hand sanitizer? By studying and evaluating the ingredients that make it work.
- Choose alcohol-based sanitizers that contain simple non-active ingredients such as water, plant oils, hydrogen peroxide and glycerin.
- Avoid formulations containing PEGS on the ingredients list (like PEG-40)
- Bypass products that contain parabens, ingredients ending in paraben (like ethyl paraben)
- Avoid products that use artificial dyes (for example, Yellow 5)
- Ignore products that list “fragrance” or “parfum.”
- Shop for products vetted by a trusted third-party verification that requires full ingredient disclosure.
Most importantly, avoid sanitizers with unfamiliar ingredients. For they most likely are a Brand X knockoff that can’t be trusted to safely and consistently cleanse your hands as you and your family weather the double-barreled viral threat of COVID-19 and influenza. For a complete list of harmful hand sanitizer ingredients, check the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Do-Not-Use List.
“Some manufacturers decided to exploit the panic caused by the pandemic,” ZibaBeauty.com writes. “These bad actors produced hand sanitizers that were either substandard (containing the active ingredients in less than the appropriate quantities) or outright toxic (using similar but dangerous chemicals for manufacturing the product).”
Knowledge is power and the key to safely using soap and hand sanitizer and staying safe and healthy during these trying health times. Smart soap and sanitizer knowledge starts by knowing exactly what we are cleaning our hands with.
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