Sticky Situation: The hand sanitizer guide

You really don’t need hand sanitizer if there’s a sink and soap nearby. but in a pinch, which gel does the trick without smearing you with toxins?


X3/Safehands alcohol-free

Some alcohol-free hand sanitizers used to be loaded with seriously dodgy triclosan (and triclocarban) – the persistent antibacterial that Environment Canada has called a “danger” to the environment and Health Canada promised long ago to classify as toxic but hasn’t. It’s still found in some hospital hand sanitizers as well as in soaps, but is less common in consumer hand sanitizers. Instead, X3, SafeHands and others make alcohol-free versions with benzalkonium chloride, a quaternary ammonium compound, aka quat, that has been linked to antibiotic-resistant bacteria with -frequent use. Besides, health authorities recommend alcohol-based sanitizers. 

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Purell

A germaphobe fave, alcohol-based gels like Purell are without a doubt a safer, more effective way of killing 99.99 per cent of bacteria than reaching for triclosan-laced hand soaps or quat-based wipes and foams. But there’s really no need for all the junky fossil fuel-based fillers or the synthetic fragrance, which typically contains a cocktail of hormone-disrupting chems and allergy triggers. Purell does make an Ecologo-certified version, Purell 70, that is fragrance- and dye-free, with “100% naturally renewable ethanol.” Corn-based ethanol comes with its own environmental issues, but either way, Purell 70 isn’t readily available in stores. 

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Cleanwell

For those averse to the moisture-sapping powers of alcohol-based gels, CleanWell offers a quat- and triclosan-free health store alternative. This one relies on the germ-busting powers of – drum roll, please – thyme oil. No toxic warnings here, but your hands will smell strongly of, yes, thyme for a few minutes. Not organic, but the ingredients are all naturally derived and non-hazardous. The thing is, at this point the only sanitizers the U.S. FDA recommends are alcohol-based formulas. The FDA says it will be asking other sanitizer brands to cough up more data by 2019.  

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EO

When hand sanitizer pumps were first taking offices by storm, I lobbied to get this brand in our workplace dispensers. This clever Cali certified B Corp was one of the first to offer natural hand sanitizers to individuals, businesses and schools. The product contained a little silicone-based dimethicone back then, but that’s been wisely dumped. It now contains nothing but certified organic sugar-cane-based ethanol, optional organic essential oils, vegetable glycerin and vitamin E. Yes, that glycerin is mostly palm-oil-based, but EO says it avoids controversial Asian sources and gets it from “responsible producers” in Brazil. Bonus: most of its packaging is 100% post-consumer recycled, and you can buy a 32 ounce bottles to refill portable sizes.  

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Dr. Bronner’s

We all need some exposure to germs to keep our immune systems strong, but I confess I have an aversion to, say, eating popcorn or Ethiopian food immediately after holding a subway pole. For when soap and water are nowhere in sight, keep a small bottle of this stuff around. Made with certified organic, fair-trade ethyl alcohol (from Ecuadorian sugar cane), organic veggie glycerin, organic essential oils and nothing else, this hand sanitizer is by far your most sustainable choice on shelves. Too bad it doesn’t come in bulk sizes, but the bottle is 100% post-consumer recycled.   

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