In the United States, local convenience stores across the country are continuing to sell out of hand sanitizer as COVID-19 panic mounts and self-quarantining ramps up. Regardless of whether you live in a metropolitan or rural area, the demand for germ-free solutions to combat the outbreak has never been higher.
When I recently visited my parents in the suburbs of New Jersey, they told me about how there are merchants taking advantage of the situation by selling bottles of sanitizer for as much as $80. One man in particular ignited fury when it was revealed that he was hoarding nearly 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer after Amazon cracked down on price gouging (he later donated them to charity following the backlash).
One can only assume that similar scenes are taking place on every corner of the earth as the global pandemic carries on. Italy is currently on lockdown, schools are shutting down, and the US-Canada border is closing for non-essential travelers indefinitely. Surely more countries will follow suit if the virus isn’t contained anytime soon. For those looking to “flatten the curve,” hand sanitizers can play a crucial role. According to a 2013 post from B4 Brands, “30 seconds of using hand sanitizer kills as much bacteria as two full minutes of hand washing.”
Interestingly, Nhu-Y Ngo tweeted about how she noticed so many people avoiding the “natural” cleaning products in stores, but at this point, does that really make a difference? Just because the formula lacks harsh chemicals doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is ineffective. While there is certainly instant comfort from a “kills 99.9 percent of germs” disclaimer, that’s doesn’t mean it actually works that way.
Marilee Nelson, a building materials specialist, environmental consultant, and co-founder of Branch Basics, recommends soap and water above all else. (Safe options that have been rigorously verified can be found through MADESAFE.) She finds the surge of commercial sanitizer and disinfectant acquisition unnecessary, especially when the overuse of these items is actually spreading “resistant superbugs.”
Nelson claims that chemical-based products with EPA registered pesticides or alcohol actually contribute to the issue of building antibacterial resistance and can be harmful to our immune systems. As far as surfaces are concerned, she advises following the CDC recommended two step disinfecting procedure of first cleaning with soap and water, then followed by using a non-toxic cleaning solution made with at least 70 percent alcohol.
“We are a germ-phobic society over-practicing hygiene and we are paying a very high price for this,” Nelson says. “Sanitizers and disinfectants kill germs and leave behind those which have become resistant, while soap and water remove them all. If you know you’ll be able to access a sink in the immediate future to wash your hands, hold off on using hand sanitizer and keep a plain soap in your bag instead.”
My personal favorite is Dr. Bronner’s organic hand sanitizer spray. Not only does it smell delicious because of the lavender oil, but it’s also an organic hand sanitizer with fair trade ingredients, which means that it does not use harsh chemicals or GMO-ethanol. To put your mind even further at ease, 62 percent of the spray is made out of organic ethyl alcohol and also contains organic glycerin, which has antimicrobial and antiviral properties guaranteed to destroy bacteria.
As a spray, it’s even easier to apply to your hands on-the-go, which is why I voluntarily switched months ago. Additionally, the spray doubles as an air freshener or deodorant, so it’s multifunctional. The product description on the Dr. Bronner’s website concludes with a word of encouragement to “sanitize with a clean conscience.”
Dr. Samantha Radford, a chemist with an expertise in public health, says that natural hand sanitizers are perfectly safe, but people should only be reaching for the products that contain at least 60 percent alcohol. As the owner of Evidence-based Mommy, she is constantly looking into how parents can raise their children with effective principles that combine the best of science and wellness. Radford is also versed in exposure science, which examines how people who come into contact with dangerous chemicals are affected.
“I don’t see any problem ingredients in Dr. Bronner’s organic hand sanitizer,” she adds. “While the lavender in Dr. Bronner’s is okay, I would be wary of hand sanitizer with tea tree oil, peppermint oil, or citrus oils in it. Essential oil on the skin can be irritating and even leave burns if too concentrated.”
Dr. Rashmi Byakodi, a dentist and editor of Best Nutrition, agrees that natural hand sanitizers are fair game under the condition that a high amount of ethyl alcohol is present.
“Hand sanitizers are a convenient and effective way of cleaning your hands if soap and water aren’t available,” she told us in an email. “Natural hand sanitizers containing ethyl alcohol and essential oils can be effective hand sanitizers. According to a study, essential oils have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. They not only give fragrance but are also effective in killing germs.”
Unfortunately, the Dr. Bronner’s hand sanitizer spray is currently sold out on Amazon, Target, and most other online retailers, but if you happen to see it on a shelf somewhere, I highly recommend grabbing a few bottles. Maybe it’s not the most superior sanitizer of them all, but that won’t stop me from keeping it stashed in my bag while supplies last.