Make your own hand sanitiser
I love my kids. Not just in an I-love-chocolate kind of way, but in an earth-shattering, heart-stopping, life-defining way. They are absolutely the apex of my world. And they are also disgusting.
I just spent an amazing weekend away with one of my oldest friends. We shopped, we talked, we shopped, we drank, we shopped, we ate, we shopped (did I mention we shopped?) for three days straight. Despite the bliss associated with a long weekend of freedom, my heart literally skipped a beat when I came home. Chloe who was still up came crashing into my arms and (after asking if I had a present for her) showered me with I love yous. She then picked her nose and wiped it on my knee.
Between exploding diapers, dinners gone wrong, potty training and Belles fascination with all things snail-related (not to mention putting random objects in the loo), there have been a lot of messy moments in our world. Fortunately, we had kids at precisely the same moment the hand sanitiser market boomed, so we have been well equipped to deal with the germs. There was a time when I had it in my bag, the car, the kitchen, the bathroom, at work and I definitely thought we were all better protected with it.
However, Ive since discovered that not all hand sanitisers are created equal. And if you support green living and natural health strategies, then this will interest you. Many of the antibacterial products on the market (including hand washes, but particularly sanitisers) contain something called triclosan. The problem with triclosan is that its thought that overuse can lead to resistant strains of bacteria, especially in relation to MRSA. Its also toxic to aquatic life as it inhibits photosynthesis and functions as an endocrine (hormone) disrupter. That may sound heavy handed, but research shows that its affecting the growth and development in a detectable way of a huge variety of species (ranging from bullfrogs to dolphins).
Further, there are some studies that imply triclosan use may have some possible carcinogenic associations. While the FDA currently states that triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans, it does have it under review. In addition, its worth noting that they say the agency does not have evidence that triclosan in antibacterial soaps provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water.
But what about alcohol-based sanitisers? Although the Centers for Disease Control do state that hand washing is still the preferable method for disease prevention, they also support the use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers (especially where hand washing is not a viable option). Those at a 60 percent concentration or more are extremely effective at killing germs as long as there is sufficient contact (ten to 15 seconds). However, while they deal with cold and flu germs, they are not effective against norovirus (the winter vomiting virus) unless they are combined with benzalkonium chloride (which has similar bacteria resistance and toxicity issues to triclosan). And of course, sanitisers cant deal with airborne germs. So if someone sneezes next to you and you get a lungful, theres not much you can do!
After all that, what does this mean to you? How do you find the happy medium between respecting the environment and avoiding harsh chemicals, and protecting you and your family from pesky germs? Well, firstly note that our obsession with germs can sometimes backfire. Exposure to bacteria is thought to reduce the development of allergies and hayfever, and of course helps to build up the immune system. However, there arent many of us that wouldnt do a good hand wash around someone with a bad cold or tummy bug.
My advice for the mainstream would be to take a moderate approach. Obviously, where possible, wash your hands well. If youre around someone with a nasty infection, are travelling on planes or are visiting a doctors office/hospital, you might want to use a sanitiser. When you do, pick one that is alcohol-based and triclosan-free (labelling laws dictate that triclosan must be included on the label, so if you dont see it, it doesnt contain it). For all those other instances, when you are out and about and hand washing isnt practical, either buy one of the more natural brands or consider making your own!
While essential oils are not necessarily clinically antibacterial, medical research does reveal moderate antibacterial and antifungal properties in some. The good news is that some research indicates that the influenza strain may be especially susceptible. This recipe for home-made hand sanitiser includes lavender essential oil — which aside from the obvious benefit of smelling great, also has antiseptic, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. It also includes witch hazel as a natural antiseptic, antimicrobial, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory agent. Rather than being alcohol-based, this uses aloe vera gel — which is naturally moisturising rather than drying. Theres also vitamin E as an extra moisturiser that also helps to keep the product stable.
In terms of practicality, the ingredients for this are very expensive when compared to regular sanitiser. If you like the idea of doing it, perhaps get together with friends and share out the supplies as the lavender oil, vitamin E capsules and witch hazel will go a long way! (Of course they also have multiple other uses so you might find the investment practical regardless.) If you decide to go for it, heres how:
Homemade hand sanitiser
· 4 oz aloe vera gel
· ½ tbs witch hazel
· 1 vitamin E capsule
· 10 drops lavender essential oil
· small plastic squeezable bottles
(I got the gel, witch hazel, vitamin E and lavender from Down to Earth. I also bought small plastic bottles meant for travel from Phoenix. If you would rather use glass, then some of the pharmacies sell small glass dropper bottles.)
Directions: Whisk together the witch hazel and aloe vera. Poke a hole in the vitamin E capsule and squeeze in. Add the lavender oil and whisk again. Use a funnel to fill the bottles. (Go to my Facebook page for pictures of supplies and the end result.)
l The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the managing director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. For details visit www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda
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