The Truth About Using Hand Sanitizer Daily

Like many Americans, you may currently find yourself wrapped up in a steaming hot, antimicrobial love affair with hand sanitizer, the gelatinous booze goop keeping our meathooks unoccupied by the germs that hate our freedom. If you're feeling especially passionate or terrified, you might be using the stuff on the daily.

You'll probably want to stop. Hand sanitizer, for all of its excellent qualities, shouldn't be your first line of defense against any disease. The United States Food and Drug Administration is clear on this subject to the point of passive aggression, opening two FAQs in a row with an identical reminder that the best way to clean your hands is to wash them thoroughly with soap and water. Hand sanitizer, like cookies, is a sometimes food. You should really only be breaking the stuff out when you can't find a sink and some suds.

But let's say that government safety guidelines aren't for you. Let's say that you, like James Dean and Pee-Wee Herman before you, are a rebel. Let's conjecture that you want to lather yourself in 120-proof marmalade every day and cavort around town screaming that nobody is as clean as you. What's the worst that can happen?

Pure as driven, itchy snow

Not much is going to happen to you personally if you use hand sanitizer every day. Your mitts will get pretty dry, your manicure will be ruined, and your microbiome could be, enigmatically enough, affected "in a few ways, and some of these ways could be bad."

The real trouble comes at a microscopic level. Doctors have been warning people about the effects of disinfectants for decades: by killing 99.7% of the germs on your hands, you're leaving an open playing field for the grizzled 0.3% that are unphased by the Purell brand of chemical warfare. Antibacterial concoctions can lead to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, potentially leading to an uptick in untreatable strains of things like MRSA and staph, which the CDC calls "one of the world's most urgent public health problems." For context, they add that "Each year in the U.S., at least 2.8 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria or fungi, and more than 35,000 people die as a result."

For your sake, for the sake of those vulnerable to infection, and most importantly, for the sake of not drying out your irreplaceable hand skin, just wash your hands.