Continuous use of hand sanitizer makes skin dry, itchy – Experts

hand sanitizer
A lady sanitizing her hands

Kampala, Uganda | URN | The use of hand sanitizer has become a norm because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The use of the alcohol-based sanitizer is one of the preventive measures that the Ministry of health recommends for safeguarding against COVID-19 infection.

With the increase in COVID-19 cases in the country, hand sanitizers have become a must-have with some schools even asking parents to provide them. However, health experts say the frequent use of the wonder products reputed to kill germs in a matter of seconds might lead to other health complications such as peeling of the skin. 

Skin experts say that while sanitizers containing at least 65 percent alcohol can kill disease-causing germs in hands, they can also change the skin pH and texture.  The skin has a mildly acidic pH that ranges from 4.7 to 6.5 depending on the part of the body.

Most sanitizers have a neutral pH of 7 or above. Doctors say prolonged use of hand sanitizers can change the pH of the hands to alkaline or above a pH of 7 leading to reactions like itchy skin, dry or even peeling skin.  

Dr. Malik Ssempereza, a dermatologist, says the continued use of alcohol-based sanitizer can irritate the skin. “Alcohol-based sanitizer helps to kill germs, and it is more useful now in the COVID-19 era; however, it dries out the skin and can irritate people with sensitive skin. It can cause itching, drying and scaling, with development of rashes in some people,” he said.  

Dr. Samuel Mugoya, a skin specialist at Mulago National Referral Hospital says that the continued use of alcohol can affect the skin. However, he says more research is needed to determine the severity of the effect they can have on the skin. 

“Ethanol is the active ingredient in sanitizers and it can affect the skin, but we do not know to what level at the moment or how bad the situation can become later on. More detailed research is needed to determine how long it takes for the skin to start reacting to the sanitizers and what happens with prolonged use,” he said. 

Our reporter spoke to a few people found using hand sanitizers in the city. While some were aware of the effects of the frequent use of the products others were surprised to discover that there might be side effects associated with continuous use of the cleaning agents.

Faith Magoba, a 70-year-old retired teacher, who resides in Kampala, told this publication that she takes extra care when choosing a sanitizer to avoid having dry hands. She says she now uses sanitizers that do not make the hands dry.

Aggrey Mubiru, an accountant says hand sanitizers are like water and since there are no side effects to using water the same applies to hand sanitizers. “But these things are like using soap and water. When I use them, I see no side effect. I did not know that they can have an effect on your skin, I have not yet seen anything unusual on mine,” Mubiru said.  

Persons who suffer from eczema or other skin conditions are not advised to use hand sanitizers to make the skin dry. Instead of using hand sanitizers, they use soap and water and a moisturizer afterwards to keep the hands moist.  

Also, persons who work with chemicals like pesticides and powerful cleaning agents like bleach should keep away from sanitizers because the mixture of chemicals and alcohol can harm the body.

According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, persons who used pesticides and sanitizers were found to have increased levels of pesticides in their bodies compared to those who didn’t use them.

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Dr. Ssempereza recommends using Sanitizers with glycerin or even moisturizers often to moisten the skin located around the hand area.

“I recommend using alcohol sanitizers that contain glycerin. Glycerin helps to maintain moisture in the skin and prevents over-drying irritation. Most people react to perfumes in the sanitizers, so I recommend using perfume-free sanitizers. Always apply pure petroleum jelly frequently if you have sensitive skin,” he advises.