"You want some hand gel?"
The moment it was apparent I was pregnant, I started getting this question. It was asked so often it started to remind me of the drug pushers who used to hang around Washington Square Park when I was a teenager: "Smoke? Smoke?"
"No, thanks," was is my standard reply. I doubt at that point I had even read the specific ingredients of the most common gels (like Purell), or tried to find their material safety data sheets (MSDS) which list hazards that may not be printed on packaging. But I did already know that certain hand purifying gels contained, among other undesirables, the hormone disrupting antibacterial/antifungal agent triclosan, which can form dioxins when it comes into contact with water and has some worried it will create resistant strains of bacteria. Most people stared at me oddly or made a face when I turned the stuff down. Their sneers seemed to say, Didn't I know my hands had horrible scary germs on them that were about to kill my unborn child? I understand their fervor I feel this way about toxic chemicals, not so much about germs. Well, actually, I am a germ freak, but these chemicals worry me more than microorganisms. I try to think about the hygiene hypothesis that exposure to germs helps build a healthy immune system when something dirty bothers me.
Of course when my itty bitty vulnerable newborn arrived in the world, the hand gel offerings grew a zillion-fold. Every person who came to meet her popped a bottle of the stuff out of their bags, slathered it all over their hands, then reached for her. I was horrified. This was in my apartment, mind you. They could have walked two inches to the bathroom and used soap and warm water to greater and much safer effect. But Americans like their products.
This across-the-board addiction to products when good old soap and water has been proven time and time again by many in the medical community to be all you need to clean hands falls into category I like to call eco-straneous. Extraneous stuff no one really needs that has negative environmental impact. I'd say hand gel fits the bill. But I'm totally outnumbered. Case in point: the natural/organic/green marketplace has recently been flooded with "organic" hand gels (the quotes are there because of course there is no regulation in place to certify something like hand purifier as organic). Which means it's time or me to get off my non-hand-gel-using butt and weigh in.
Here's what to avoid: Any of the conventional gels. The first thing that MUST be avoided is anything claiming to be antibacterial or containing triclosan. I just saw this crazy statistic in an abstract of a 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey trying to assess exposure to the antibacterial:
"In about three-quarters of urine samples analyzed [there were 2,517].we detected concentrations of triclosan. Concentrations differed by age and socioeconomic status but not by race/ethnicity and sex. Specifically, the concentrations of triclosan appeared to be highest during the third decade of life and among people with the highest household incomes."
I don't want detectable levels of a hormone disrupter in my daughter's diaper!
Even the conventional ones that don't contain triclosan usually contain isopropyl alcohol, parabens, propylene glycol, and synthetic fragrances (which may contain phthalates). Nothing good about any of this.
Here are two being marketed as green and the ingredient information I could find on them. Read carefully and make your own decisions. If there's anything that confuses you, contact the manufacturer, especially if you find a product that says it contains something like "ethyl alcohol" but doesn't say if it is plant-derived or synthetic. And don't stop reading an ingredient list just because you see that someone is using an organic essential oil. EO Hand Sanitizer, for example, contains organic lavender as well as dimethicone (a silicone based polymer) and other synthetics. I'm not so fond of slathering synthetics on my kid's hands. Or my own. Would that I could just tell you which one to use. But, like I said, I don't use the stuff.
Another option is to make your own. Make a spray of water and essential oils thought to have antiseptic properties (lavender, jasmine, tuberose, thyme, tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract). Look up a recipe and make sure to dilute enough. You don't want too much on a child's skin, or for oils to be rubbed into eyes.
Oh and P.S., over on Debra Lynn Dadd's excellent site dld123.com (where I always surf when I'm looking for make-your-own suggestions), she writes, "According to a Purdue university professor who teaches sanitation practices for food service workers, 'Waterless, antibacterial hand sanitizers are marketed as a way to 'wash your hands' when soap and water aren't available, and they are especially popular among parents of small children. But research shows that they do not significantly reduce the overall amount of bacteria on the hands, and in some cases they may even increase it.' The professor went on to say that a hand sanitizer can't take the place of old-fashioned soap and water at home or anywhere else."
Like I said: wash your hands!
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