As cold and flu season approaches, you're probably stocking up on hand sanitizer and tissues. But you may want to think twice before you start smearing Purell on your child's hands.
"The chemicals used in hand sanitizer create resistant bacteria," warns pediatrician Dr. Lawrence Rosen, author of Treatment Alternatives for Children, "and they have hormonal and immunological effects, too." Top concerns are the ingredient triclosan, which has been linked with hormone disruption and is currently under review by the FDA; and the high alcohol content, which can irritate skin and is harmful if swallowed.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options for cleaning hands on the go—and many of them you can make yourself, using ingredients you already have in your kitchen.
1. Plain Vinegar
The sanitizer: 5 percent solution of white vinegar (This is the concentration in the bottle from the grocery store.)
How it works: Vinegar is an antibacterial agent that kills 99 percent of bacteria. It's also nontoxic, nonpolluting and edible.
How to use: Keep in a small spray bottle in your bag. Spray on hands so the entire surface of hands is wet. Rub all over, then wipe or shake dry.
Common concerns: The strong smell of vinegar will dissipate quickly, leaving your hands clean and odor-free. But if you dislike the smell, cover it up with a few drops of lavender or lemon essential oil.
The sanitizer: 6 ounces water; 1 teaspoon aloe vera gel; 2 drops each of cinnamon, clove, rosemary and eucalyptus essential oils; 5 drops lemon (or other scent) essential oil.
How it works: Cinnamon, clove, rosemary and eucalyptus essential oils all have antimicrobial properties, and combining them makes the sanitizer more potent against a variety of germs. The aloe vera gel is soothing to skin.
How to use: Spray on hands, and rub or shake dry.
Common concerns: It's expensive to buy so many different types of oil, so if you don't want all of them for your medicine cabinet, just pick any one or two of the antimicrobial oils for a total of eight to 10 drops.
The sanitizer: 5 ounces aloe vera gel; 1 ounce witch hazel; eight to 10 drops of any antimicrobial essential oil listed above.
How it works: The essential oils do the cleaning, and the higher concentration of aloe vera gel gives this sanitizer the same gel consistency as commercial sanitizers.
How to use: Put in a squeeze bottle. Squeeze a few drops onto hands and rub all over hands until dry.
Common concerns: You can get witch hazel with or without alcohol. For a more eco-friendly option, use alcohol-free witch hazel; if you want to increase the sanitizer's germ-killing ability, you can use the alcohol-based kind.