The Dangers Of Using A Hand Sanitizer On A Baby

We all know that when kids are small, they tend to get dirty pretty fast and pretty easy. It’s pretty hard to keep their tiny hands clean at all times, especially if you have a crawling baby in your home, still learning to stand on their two feet. 

And even though there are various products with which you can keep your baby’s hygiene regularly in check, sometimes parents opt to use immediate means in order to do this, thinking that this way their baby will be safer. That’s why in such situations the question of hand sanitizers often comes to the fore. 

Hand sanitizers have gradually become a popular replacement for antibacterial soaps, as a sort of an instant-solution for baby hands that are constantly dirty. But, one important question still lingers: are they safe to use on babies or not? 

A lot of sources and institutions actually say ‘no’, or at least ‘not really’. The United States CDC (Centre for Disease Control) has been vocal in expressing their concern about the chemicals present in hand sanitizers. They say that these chemicals may, in fact, increase the baby’s bacterial resistance to infection if they’re overused or used as a complete replacement for regular baby hygiene products, like soaps and washes. 

Some hand sanitizers can also be unhealthy and sometimes downright poisonous for babies, especially because we know that when they’re very little they often put their hands in their mouth. 

Hand sanitizers claim to kill 99 percent of the germs and bacteria present on the hands, but this is not necessarily good all of the time. It’s more often the case that they should be used occasionally and not too often. 

Next, we’re going to cover all the basic info on hand sanitizers for babies and try to answer your most pertinent question about whether to use them on your baby or not. 

Do Hand Sanitizers Contain Alcohol? 

Alcohol is a known anti-bacterial solution present in a lot of products that are marketed against germs and bacteria. Hand sanitizers are no exception when it comes to this as well. 

If we want to be more precise, we’ll have to note that, in fact, hand sanitizers contain between 60 percent and 95 percent of alcohol in their formula. It almost goes without saying, but those numbers are mighty high ones for a product used on babies! Nevertheless, this is one of the main reasons why they’re such effective microorganism-killers. 

Now, if you’ve used an alcohol-based hygiene product before, you’ll notice how quickly the alcohol content evaporates from your hands. But, the problem is that some of the alcohol rubbed on the hands can actually enter the bloodstream by being absorbed by the skin. This also means that when you’re in close contact with your baby, you should also avoid frequently using a hand sanitizer because the baby can happen to lick parts of your hand or put your finger in their mouth. You could try and get around this if you decide to use an alcohol-free hand sanitizer for you and your baby. 

The alcohol-free ones usually contain benzalkonium chloride, triclosan or povidone-iodine instead of alcohol as effective means of killing germs. However, this is also not a perfect solution or a perfect alternative to the alcohol-based ones, because these substances and compounds which carry dangers of their own, including causing certain types of antibiotic resistance. This is something we’re going to tackle next. 

Hand Sanitizers and Microbial Resistance 

There is a pretty straightforward answer to the question of whether hand sanitizers can cause certain strains of bacteria to become resistant to them: you guessed it, it’s ‘yes’. 

Bacteria are actually pretty smart organisms and they reproduce very fast, which means more persistent types will find a way to mutate and get around the germ-killing product if it is used too frequently. This also means that the likelihood of the emergence of stronger and more difficult to kill bacteria also increases, making them even more dangerous to people. Following this logic, it’s important to note that hand sanitizers can also cause antibiotic resistance. 

What are the Effects of Hand Sanitizers on the Immune System?

Hand sanitizers are not doing any special favors to your child’s immune system as well. 

Babies are born with immune systems that actively adapt to their surroundings. This means that there is a certain limit of exposure to germs that makes it safe for babies to endure in order to allow for a proper and healthy immune system development. In their earliest months, babies develop their immunity by drinking the mother’s breast milk (a lot of useful antibodies are to be found there), and, as we said, by also being exposed to the pathogens present in the environment. White blood cells called ‘memory T’ are blood cells that can practically remember pathogens that the body has been encountered with - this remembrance helps them build the baby’s immunity further on. 

From this, you can see how when the baby is not exposed to pathogens present around them, their body finds it impossible to develop the necessary memory T cells in order to successfully fight an infection. Of course, we all know babies shouldn’t be exposed to all types of pathogens - some can be very dangerous. But most of the ones the baby encounters in their daily lives do help them build immunity without putting them in mortal danger. 
By using hand sanitizers you decrease the chance of allowing your baby’s immune system to learn about the pathogens present around it, which means it’s best to use them in moderation, especially when your baby’s immunity is still unstable and in development. 

Can Hand Sanitizers Cause Poisoning? 

Because most hand sanitizers contain alcohol and other chemicals that are not really that baby-friendly, it is considered that they can have a poisonous effect on them. This is more serious if the baby somehow manages to drink a significant amount of the hand sanitizer - then there’s a high chance of alcohol poisoning which means the baby should receive medical assistance immediately. 

In other less serious scenarios, we’d recommend not to use hand sanitizer on toys and other similar items babies often play with and also put in their mouth. Ingesting small doses of the hand sanitizer from various items that the baby has come into contact with might cause them some stomach problems, and you’d definitely want to avoid that. 

Can Hand Sanitizers Cause Allergies? 

This question also has a lot to do with the immune system. The CDC has actually linked the overuse of hand sanitizers to allergies. This has a lot to do with how the body’s immune system reacts to stuff in the environment. Allergies are, in fact, simply misguided reactions of the immune system towards substances around them. When babies are too protected from these substances, the immune system doesn’t know how to recognize them and sees them as an immediate threat, therefore treating them all as dangerous, when sometimes there is no reason for that at all. 

We’d like to note that you should also have in mind how certain hand sanitizers contain ingredients and chemicals that may trigger asthma in kids that are struggling with it. If your child has such problems, you should first consult with your pediatrician to see if it’s okay to use hand sanitizers on them. 

Final Words on Hand Sanitizers

What would be the final verdict of using hand sanitizers on babies? According to the information above, and the data we’ve acquired so far, we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to use them in moderation, which means less frequently. 

You should definitely avoid overusing the hand sanitizers. Don’t venture to apply them on your little one every time they touch something new or something dusty, as well as the ground or the floor. Also, you don’t really have to use them on the toys they play with (they also don’t need to be washed every day).  

Hand sanitizers should be used mostly when you don’t have immediate access to water and soap, or when you want to use it as a means of preventing an infection in a situation where your baby is in immediate danger, like for example when you’re both visiting a relative that has a cold or the flu. 

When you choose a hand sanitizer, it’s best to opt for a fragrance-free one. This way the baby will be much less tempted to lick their hands while the sanitizer is still on it. 

Hand sanitizers are effective germ-killers when used in moderation. But don’t forget that your baby still needs to develop and build their immunity in order to make it stronger, and exposure to everyday germs might actually help them a lot in the long run.