The Adverse Effects of Hand Sanitizer

by Suhaas Bonkur

Despite the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has been significantly slowed down from its initial peaks of 1.723 million infections daily to 402,000 infections as of June 27, 2021 (JHU), the pandemic is still far from over. Since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, masks and hand sanitizer have been the norm, with such intense demand during the first few months that their costs severely inflated as panicked citizens began disinfecting themselves and belongings whenever they left their house. Although this form of protection shields us partially from the transmission of respiratory illness, it has not been viewed as a hazard itself, until recently.

Typical hand sanitizers are made from glycerin, perfumes, and most importantly isopropyl alcohol, which is the key to sanitation. All 3 components clear the applied region of over 99% of living bacteria, leaving behind a strong odor. Not only does the alcohol act as a diuretic and dehydrate your skin, it also releases potent fumes that are readily absorbed into lung cells, causing the least of your symptoms to be a headache. A clinical experience, written by a few researchers, involved a patient being exposed to the fumes of isopropyl alcohol for a prolonged period of time, causing them to receive a “sustained hypoxic brain injury”. In fact, due to these multiple occurrences, the FDA has agreed to the cases and recommends to “Use hand sanitizer in a well-ventilated area”.  With these confirmations,  it seems probable that even prolonged exposure to inhaling sanitizer fumes may have adverse effects.

Another property of isopropyl alcohol is its dielectric bonds, which cover and absorb water from the epidermis of your skin. With occasional exposure, layers of dead skin may be flaked off, but with repeated usage, hand sanitizer can enter through the pores of the dermis and fracture the sensitive layer of skin below. In extreme cases, it has produced reactions similar to that of eczema. In addition, people diagnosed with skin irritations such as eczema have also reported having flare-ups in symptoms and unbearable pain with sanitizer usage. Simply, if products such as hand sanitizers are not made with consideration to be used by people of all illnesses and skin types, they will be used less and eventually lead to a probable rise in Covid-19 cases.

Another concern of hand sanitizers stems from the fact that over time, bacteria and Antibody resistance. The relevance of this problem lies with the fact of hand sanitizer’s sudden popularity and usage, which could have saturated our bodies with alcohol with repeated usages. Although there seems to be no immediate reaction to the constant usage of hand sanitizer to disinfect surfaces and beings, long-term exposure to the substance with no break could eventually increase the pH of your blood, with alcohol’s slight basic acidity.

In terms of global health, hand sanitizer is not the major risk factor itself when compared to SARS Cov-2 and Cardiovascular illnesses, but does inform us of a perspective we never considered. (Neutral opinion). Could it be possible that receiving boosters for a long period of time could be harmful to us? What other chemicals are permeable to the skin and grow in concentration rampantly? These questions are raised in terms of global health from this small case study, proving once again that results from small trials can be applied to the world.

About the Author:

Suhaas Bonkur is a high schooler from Georgia, US, and is interested in pursuing public health in terms of chronic illnesses. He has presented at JHU, AHA, and multiple conventions and is currently interested in studying chronic illness trends in South Asians. Other review articles he has published have been featured in his school newspaper and local magazines.


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