Proving what you already knew about hand sanitizer: It's bad.

In the note that came home for kindergarten this year, they requested parents send in standard alcohol based hand sanitizer for the classroom. Chances are good if you are a parent of a school aged child, you got one of those letters too.

For years and years many of us “lunatic mothers” have been resisting this policy.  We asserted that kids need some germs to build an immune system. We added that alcohol dries out the skin leaving it cracked and vulnerable to infection.  They told us to use lotion then.

The fact is, we should be resisting sanitizer use… ADAMANTLY. Perhaps not for the reasons we think though.

As early as 2002, scientists have known alcohol based hand sanitizers posed a threat to our children’s health. Here’s the earliest study that I found in The Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. Now, I don’t really hold American doctors and infectious control specialists responsible for ignoring that study. It’s from Germany. And in the US, we kind of think that science isn’t science until it happens in the US. I am however highly annoyed that hand sanitizer didn’t get pulled from the market after the American Journal of Infectious Control published their study in 2008 that mirrored the German Study from six years prior.

The results of the study showed that while hand sanitizer can kill germs, what it leaves behind is far more dangerous than what was there before.  Hand sanitizers kill some of the germs, friendly ones included. However, biofilm production and, therefore, the pathogen potential of staph can be induced by alcohol (such as the alcohols found in hand sanitizer, shampoos, hand soaps, body washes, and mouth washes.) A simple search through our National Institute of Health’s online medical library will produce even more studies to support these two.

Biofilm production is worse than germs just hanging out mingling around. Biofilm is when germs like staph all group together to make a nearly impenetrable “film” on a surface.  That surface can be anything from metal and ceramic surfaces to the deep layers of your skin. Since most other germs have been washed away, recolonization of the stronger germs begins and while this happens, the remaining germs toughen up forming the biofilm that even antibiotics can’t seem to penetrate.

So, seriously, hand sanitizer really is every bit as bad as us “lunatic mothers” suspected… and actually it’s even worse.

Now what?

  • We need to all start washing with safe soaps again. Many essential oils in the Garden Dreams line kill germs and undo the damage the alcohol based products have done by breaking up biofilm. Garden Dream Sage Rosemary is perfect for that. Besides the therapeutic oils, the goat milk soap has proteins that will protect your child’s skin and is at a level almost identical to the pH of human skin leaving it as healthy as possible. Furthermore, it is often the only thing that helps alleviate skin conditions like eczema.
  • If you simply must sanitize your hands without washing them, fill a bottle up with an antiseptic essential oil like (lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus, clove bud or thyme) and olive oil. That can be your new sanitizer.
  • If you want a substitute for your sanitizing lotion, use CJ BUTTer on your hands instead.  All of the oils in that are fantastic for the health of your hands and kill bad germs, while leaving your natural skin flora intact. From the drop down menu choose the CJ’s in the Sweet Bay Rose Scent and really get the most bang for your buck with essential oils like rose, basil, eucalyptus, and bay.
  • Take a good look at your baby products’ ingredients (and your own products too) and if the product contains alcohol, pitch it.  With skin infections being one of the leading causes of hospitalizations these days… it’s simply not worth it. We have alternatives.  Find us on this blog, on facebook or on our forum and we will help you find a cheap alternative to your alcohol based products. And if we don’t carry what you’re looking for, we’ll still help you find it.



  1. Great article, thanks so much for sharing this wonderful information!

    I love using essential oils as hand sanitizer– I have a small bottle with a spray nozzle that has fractionated coconut oil and a few drops of the OnGuard blend (Cinnamon, Clove bud, Eucalyptus, Rosemary, and Wild Orange). It’s a great way to sanitize naturally without all of those chemicals, and I love that it doesn’t dry out my hands like the store-bought hand sanitizer. 🙂

    OnGuard is one of my FAVORITE essential oils blends, it’s awesome! The blend is very powerful as an antiviral/antibacterial, and I use it all the time as a preventative oil and to kick any illness before it sets in. Research studies have been done about this blend, and it was found that it is effective at fighting against many of the major bugs like E. Coli and MRSA– in fact one researcher found that MRSA couldn’t grow on a surface for 7 days after it was wiped with OnGuard diluted in water.

    You can buy this blend on my website here: I also have a free ebook on the website about the power of essential oils for natural health and wellness. Many of the medications and personal care products use chemical based ingredients that are actually manufactured to imitate natural compounds found within plants. I prefer using essential oils to have access to those compounds, because the health benefits are wonderful and there aren’t any of the negative side effects that are present with chemical based products! 🙂

  2. leanne

    How does something like Tea Tree Oil which kills germs as effectively as alcohol (meaning killing many, “good” as well as bad, but not all – similar to alcohol) NOT also result in biofilm? I have always read the alternative to using hand sanitizer is to ONLY use soaps which do NOT have any anti-microbial action… you are recommending anti-microbials (just substituting oils for alcohols)…

    • Dawn Babcock Papple

      Most Essential Oils do not feed the germs like alcohol does. Plus they work in a different way.

      TTO however is not an effective choice when it is diluted lower than 4%. Most essential Oils will completely kill all germs and anything that is left, has remained untouched by it, so it has no consequence. TTO however, has the potential to have bacteria become resistant to it, and also to creating a weird cross resistance issue with some antibiotics. But if left in a strong dilution (and remember TTO does not ever have to be diluted, it is more effective than alcohol, leaving usually no survivors.

      A non essential oil way to not risk biofilm is iodine solutions for those uninterested in essential oils. There are also medicinal antibacterials that will not cause biofilm, but their toxicity levels leave much to be desired as an application for our children.

      My suggestion is of course, as I said before, just to use good soaps. However, many people will not do this, and their fears absolutely require products to have the sanitizing qualities, which they can find more effectively and more safely in essential oils.

      Add to this that essential oils are GOOD for use, helping get rid of free radicals, promoting all sorts of other health benefits that I simply am not legally allowed to mention.

  3. Dawn Babcock Papple

    Also, when getting off of these alcohol based products, a new product will be needed to break down biofilm. So far, in studies the forerunner is Eucalyptus followed by peppermint. Neithre creates biofilm, and both destroy it, followed closely by a whole slew of other EOs.

  4. Angie Nicole

    After reading this article I am wondering if this is TRULY the case then why does OSHA recommend that ALL health care providers use Hand sanitizer between patients over hand washing?

    • Dawn Babcock Papple

      It takes time for science to catch up with regulations. Read the studies yourself. You don’t have to take my word for it. Then google scholar for similar studies. It’s a pretty big deal in the research community right now.

  5. Dawn Babcock Papple

    Cara, what she pointed out was the On Guard essential oil blend not those wipes. It’s no where NEAR the same thing.

    Regardless though, if a strong enough concentration essential oils were to be added to alcohol, the essential oils would eliminate biofilm anyway. Does that make sense?

      • leanne

        I found mixed results for promoting and preventing biofilm production from TTO, and bad results for citrus oils, and best results for cinnamin essential oil… I think it’s best to be careful what the actual contents are, and I eventually fell asleep before finding any consistent and clear published evidence that all or any particular essential oil(s) are superior to alcohol in terms of affecting biofilm of resistant bacteria… There’s no question on the facts re: use of alcohol-based sanitizers – but I cannot locate any research facts that antimicrobial essential oils yield any different results as relates to biofilm – can you point me to that evidence? I can only find soap to be superior to alcohol-based sanitizer…

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  8. In Moderation

    Wouldn’t the best advice just be to do everything in moderation? Use soap and water when available but use hand sanitizer when kids are in the playground or when a bathroom is not available? I don’t think any teacher in their right mind advocates hand sanitizer over washing your hands…plus, don’t kids have to go to the bathroom several times a day?

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