Q: I am out a lot and not around soap and water, so I use hand sanitizers. But I found out that the one I use has propylparaben. Can you recommend a safer wipe or hand sanitizer? – H.W., Cleveland, OH
Dr. Micozzi: While businesses encourage employees in the service industries to wash their hands, I am finding that there are many industries where employees have a difficult time getting to places where they can wash up during the work shift, or when they’re moving around on daily work rounds.
As you know, I recommended frequently washing your hands with soap and water to fight colds, flu, or other viruses and infections. When that is not possible, you can use a portable hand sanitizer.
But you are completely right to avoid hand sanitizers that contain parabens. Propylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, and methylparaben are used as preservatives in a variety of cosmetics and personal care products, including hand sanitizers. These chemicals are thought to be endocrine disruptors, and have been associated in some studies with breast cancer, metabolic disease, obesity, birth defects, and bone density issues.
You also shouldn’t use any hand sanitizers that contain triclosan. This antibacterial chemical has been shown in studies to alter hormone regulation, potentially harm our immune systems, and contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs.
Instead, look for sanitizers with ethyl alcohol, which has been used as an effective antiseptic and antibacterial for centuries. Ethyl alcohol is what we call beverage alcohol, so a little exposure is not toxic to the body.
You can also choose hand sanitizers that contain natural essential oils with antiseptic properties. Aloe vera, geranium, jojoba, lavender, olive leaf, orange peel, peppermint, tea tree, and ylang ylang are all effective essential oils—and also add a pleasant, natural fragrance to your hand sanitizer. You can find one or more of these natural antiseptics in various combinations.