Waterless hand soap is commonly referred to as hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizers are lotions or gels that you use to disinfect your hands when hand-washing isn't an option. Hand sanitizers usually contain either alcohol or an antibacterial substance as their active ingredient. Although these products can help prevent the spread of diseases such as colds and flu, they also carry some dangers.
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Most hand sanitizers are 60 percent to 65 percent alcohol by volume, according to the Maryland Poison Center, which is a higher alcohol content than most hard liquors. Although experts say that children must ingest huge amounts of the sanitizer to be poisoned, the number of calls to the American Association of Poison Control Centers reporting hand sanitizer incidents rose more than 70 percent between 2005 and 2007.
Hand sanitizers that contain an antimicrobial agent may contribute to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. According to Stuart Levy of Tufts University School of Medicine, evidence is growing that antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers are contributing to antibiotic resistance. In a 2007 Washington Post article, Levy said antibacterial products--including hand sanitizers--can leave residue. This residue continues to kill bacteria but not effectively, which allows stronger bacteria to survive and develop resistance.
The active ingredient in many antibacterial hand sanitizers is a chemical called triclosan. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there is some evidence that triclosan may disrupt your body's endocrine system. The FDA says scientific studies in animals have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation. There are no human studies showing this effect, but the FDA says review of the topic is ongoing as of 2010, and it expects to publicly release its findings in spring 2011.
Potential for Weakened Immune Systems
There is also some concern about the potential for hand sanitizers to weaken your immune system. For instance, although hand sanitizers kill harmful bacteria, they can also kill beneficial bacterial, which can leave room for more bad bacteria to grow and make you sick. Tufts University School of Medicine's Levy also expresses concern about the possibility that living in too sterile of an environment can lead to the development of allergies, asthma and skin problems, a concern that is backed by numerous studies, according to the Washington Post.