What You Need to Know About Hand Sanitizer and Kids

As hand sanitizer use becomes more ubiquitous, parents should remember that it’s not completely harmless. Learn the risks here.

One of the most sought-after products during the COVID-19 pandemic is hand sanitizer, and while we think of it as something that keeps families safe and healthy, it can have potentially harmful effects on our children.  

Pediatrician Bhavana Vyas, who practices at Macomb Medical Pediatrics in Clinton Township, says children have had more adverse reactions to hand sanitizer since the start of the pandemic due to its increased use. And while not all of these cases were severe, it’s something that parents should take seriously and be mindful of as they keep their kids’ hands clean and COVID-free. 

When to use hand sanitizer 

The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water whenever possible. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to help avoid illness and spreading germs.

Vyas says that you should always use soap and water while at home, especially with kids under the age of 1, but adds that hand sanitizer is OK in case of emergency.

“I always recommend that parents carry hand sanitizer because if your child touches things in the store, you can quickly use hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available,” she explains.

Kids should be monitored anytime they use hand sanitizer to ensure they don’t accidentally ingest it before it dries on their hands. All hand sanitizer should be kept up and away from children when not in use.

Which type of hand sanitizer to buy 

There are a couple things to keep in mind when purchasing sanitizer: Make sure it has at least 60% alcohol and never use sanitizer that contains methanol. 

“The FDA has issued recalls on sanitizers containing methanol,” Vyas says. “It can cause serious neurological, respiratory and cardiac complications.” 

Sometimes hand sanitizer might contain a small amount of hydrogen peroxide, but Vyas says that’s safe for children.

Potential harmful effects of hand sanitizer

As with most things, you can reduce any harmful effects associated with hand sanitizer by using it in moderation. 

“If someone is using hand sanitizer 10 to 15 times a day, it’s not recommended,” Vyas says. “It contains alcohol, so it can absorb into the skin.” 

Using an excessive amount of hand sanitizer or ingesting it “can cause dizziness, vomiting, headaches and hypoglycemia,” she adds.  

The topical use of hand sanitizer can also dry out skin, so parents should try to use a brand with hydrogen peroxide, which is less irritating than those that are alcohol-based. Children that struggle with extremely dry or itchy skin should follow up with moisturizer.  

“I also recommend wearing mittens or cloth gloves, so you can take the gloves off and change them out,” Vyas adds.

Though people may think they are protecting themselves when they use hand sanitizer excessively, it can be counterintuitive. When you break down the skin moisture barrier, which can look like dry, cracked or bleeding skin, you actually introduce yourself to more potentially harmful bacteria.

“Not only for kids with eczema, but for even kids without it, hand sanitizer can dry out your skin and cause a little breaking in the skin barrier, and now your body is more susceptible to infection,” Vyas says. 

This information should be used as a general guideline. If your child has accidentally ingested hand sanitizer, call the poison control hotline for metro Detroit at 1-800-222-1222. For other questions, contact your child’s pediatrician. 

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