Your Hand Sanitizer Might Be the Reason You’ll Get Sick This Winter

Last Update: September 29, 2022

The bus, a bacteria-mobile. The grocery store, a germ’s playground. The doctor’s office, a veritable haven for disease-causing bugs. It seems that everywhere you go during cold and flu season is potentially contaminated.

As tempting as it is to reach for the hand sanitizer strategically placed next to the shopping carts to get rid of germs, it might be best to back away (unless it’s plant-based sanitizer; more on that in a minute).

Why? Because relying on chemical-based hand sanitizer actually increases your chances of contracting a nasty winter cold or flu bug. And it could be the thing that’s causing you to gain those few extra pounds, too.

Yep, it’s true. Manufacturers of conventional hand sanitizers have done a great job marketing their products as germ killers, but the toxic ingredients in many of them do exactly the opposite of what they advertise. There are two serious offenders to look out for on the ingredient list of the disinfectant in your bag: triclosan and ethyl alcohol.

Triclosan is an antibiotic compound found in most non alcohol-based sanitizers, soaps, and toothpastes that sport an “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial” label. But as good as this antibiotic might be at killing bacteria indiscriminately, its use has raised eyebrows at the USDA for the unnecessary risks associated with the compound. It’s so questionable that the entire state of Minnesota has banned its use in hygiene products.

The problem with triclosan is that it works really well—but bacteria gets smart and adapts quickly. Researchers now know that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics—aka the reason that your cold just won’t quit. In a CDC study on more than 20,000 health care employees , scientists discovered that those who used hand sanitizer with triclosan were six times more likely to contract norovirus, the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis.

If upping the chances that you’ll spend 48 hours with your face in the toilet bowl isn’t enough to make you put down the antibacterial soap, the effects triclosan has on hormones probably will.

The Environmental Protection Agency has linked triclosan use to disruption of the thyroid as well as estrogen and testosterone production. And endocrine disruption can lead to weight gain, hair loss, lowered fertility, and even cancer.

While not as dangerous as triclosan, ethyl alcohol–based sanitizers can cause inflammation, irritation, redness, and headaches. And during dry skin season, the last thing scratchy hands need are cracking and burning.

If you’re totally second-guessing your entire don’t-get-sick-this-winter plan now that chemical hand sanitizers are off-limits, the family-owned certified organic brand EO has you covered. The line includes a completely natural lavender hand sanitizer, which relies on sugar cane ethanol to destroy flu-causing bacteria and germs without the repercussions. Bonus: the addition of jojoba and lavender essentials oil to soothe and hydrate skin.

The product is our go-to, since carrying around (and slathering on) straight essential oils—some of which have been shown to be highly antibacterial against e. coli, the flu virus, and penicillin-resistant bacteria—isn’t always practical.

Even if you can’t get to a sink to wash hands after that sniffly coworker sneezes in your direction, EO’s plant-based sanitizer can destroy any lingering germs—and perhaps ward off sick days forever.

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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