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Hand sanitiser toxins you need to avoid - and some great natural product alternatives

Who'd have thought that hand sanitisers would be the 2020 must-have accessory - along with face masks (and a two metre stick)? But do we actually know what's in them and could long term exposure actually be causing us more harm than good?

How do hand sanitisers work?

Whereas soap and water react with each other to lift pathogens from your skin and wash them away, sanitisers kill germs directly on contact. To do so they must contain a minimum of 60% alcohol to be effective (WHO). Covid-19 is a envelope virus, meaning it has a coating around it. The alcohol in hand sanitiser attacks this envelope eliminating the threat.

What are the chemicals you should look out for?

The smell of most sanitisers is downright nasty and perhaps that's reassuring when you're relying on them to kill the most terrifying virus we'll hopefully see in our lifetime. But in our haste to stay alive we seem to have stopped caring about what we're actually putting on our skin and whether it could be doing us any harm.

There are some pretty toxic chemicals to be found in hand sanitiser. Here's some of the top nasties that you should try to avoid like Covid-19:-


An antimicrobial agent.

Why it's bad: It’s a endocrine disruptor, affecting thyroid, testosterone, and oestrogen hormone regulation which can create a host of issues including early puberty, poor sperm quality, infertility, obesity, and cancer. It's also a known skin irritant and is thought to have greatly contributed to antibiotic resistance.

Fragrance (parfum) and phthalates

Found in anything that isn't scented entirely with real essential oils.

Why it's bad: The word 'fragrance' on a product label can refer to a combination of over 200 individual synthetic fragrances. There is no requirement to list these individually so hundreds of potentially toxic chemicals can be hidden in this one, seemingly harmless term. Many are polycyclic musk combinations that bioaccumulate in blood, body fat and have even been found in breast milk.

Phthalates help fragrances stick around longer and are xenoestrogenic (mimic oestrogen and bind to oestrogen receptors). Synthetic fragrances have been found to interfere with the body's normal hormone responses, cause dermatitis and even lung disease.

SLS and SLES are surfactants, which dissolve surface tension in water to help products like soaps and detergents foam.

Why it's bad: Although SLS has not directly been linked with cancer, a major concern is its potential to interact and combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines and formaldehyde, both known carcinogens. These combinations can also lead to a host of other issues such as kidney damage, skin, lung and eye irritation, organ toxicity and endocrine disruption.


Preservatives used to inhibit microbial growth so that manufacturers can extend shelf life.

Why it's bad: linked to a multitude of health risks including cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation. Look out for names such as butyl, ethyl, methyl, propyl and isobutyl before -paraben. 

Triethanolamine (TEA)

Detergent and emulsifying agent.

Why it's bad: strong respiratory allergen and suspected immune system toxicant. Most TEA on the market is a blend of about 85% TEA and 15% DEA, Diethanolamine.  Diethanolamine, a related chemical, has been linked to certain types of cancers. 

Is hand sanitiser more effective than soap and water?

The answer to this is a resounding no and all experts seem to agree. While hand sanitiser does help to neutralise the virus it's not quite the superpower that soap is.

Dr Pastula a neuro-infectious disease expert and neurohospitalist at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital explains why: “Soap disrupts the sticky bond between pathogens and your skin, allowing the pathogens to slide right off. Not only are you neutralising the virus with the soap, but you’re also physically knocking it off your hands. Hand sanitiser doesn’t do all of that.

“Soap can bridge the chemical differences between water and fat. That’s why you need soap to clean a greasy frying pan. Soap molecules can pry themselves into the fatty layer of this particular virus and break it up, thus inactivating it. Breaking up the fatty envelope that encases the virus particles can take a little time. That’s one reason why you need to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.”

It doesn't even matter what type of soap you use or how hot the water is as long as it is clean.

So where possible wash your hands, using hand sanitiser as a back up when you aren't able to do so.

Here's a couple of other reasons to reach for the soap first:-

  • Alcohol in sanitiser is really drying on the skin and heavy use can irritate the skin, stripping away its natural oils and acid mantle, dehydrating cells, leading to premature ageing and increasing the risk of contact dermatitis.

  • The over-use of antibacterials actually weakens the immune system. So although we think that we're protecting ourselves, long term we may be comprising our immunity which relies on exposure to everyday bacteria to thrive and diversify.


£5.99 (50ml)

This company has a great back story. Purdy & Figg was created by two women, Purdy Rubin a NHS nurse and Charlotte Fig a horticulturist, with the aim of tackling two issues - toxin use in cleaning products and single-use plastics. When Covid hit Purdy's sons suggested they branch out into hand sanitiser.

Comes in three different fragrances -

Charlotte's Floral - combining feminine notes of rose geranium, lemon citrus oil and vetiver.

Wild Woody - with grounding vetiver, aromatic woody coriander seed and purifying juniper berry.

Original Citrus - with uplifting pink grapefruit, sweet orange, and the aromatic naiouli flower.

  • Clinically proven to kill 99.99% of bacteria

  • Keeps your hands soft as well as clean

  • Contains over 70% alcohol 

  • No rinse, quick drying spray

  • Natural essential oil blend of sweet orange, pink grapefruit, niaouli

  • Each 50ml bottle delivers over 300 uses

  • Glass bottle to reduce single use plastic

  • Made in the UK 🇬🇧

£9.00 (50ml)

A refreshing antibacterial spray made with a blend of Neem, Thyme, Rosemary and Sage to help purify and protect your hands. With no artificial scents or additives.

  • A refreshing antibacterial spray to help purify and protect hands

  • Contains 65% alcohol

  • Non-drying formula

  • Formulated without any artificial scents or additives

  • Fights bacteria and other pathogens effectively and efficiently

  • High-quality herbal tincture base of sage, rosemary, thyme and neem leaves behind a soothing herbal aroma

£5.25 (60ml)

Made from a really simple formula of organic ethyl alcohol, water, organic lavender oil, and organic glycerin. Also comes in peppermint.

  • Kills germs with a simple formula: organic ethyl alcohol, water, organic lavender oil (or peppermint), and organic glycerin

  • None of the nasty chemicals you find in conventional sanitisers, but just as effective

  • Fairtrade, not tested on animals

  • Suitable for Vegans

£16.00 (50ml)

An award winning refreshing antibacterial spray made with a blend of certified organic Tea Tree and Sweet Orange essential oils. A bit of a indulgence at £16 for 50ml but well worth it for the high quality organic ingredients contained within.

  • Made with 96% pure, certified organic, fair-trade sugarcane ethanol

  • Contains a minimum of 60% alcohol 

  • Certified 67% organic

  • 100% of total ingredients from natural origin

Have you panic bought hand sanitiser and has it crossed your mind what's actually in it? Leave a comment below.



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