by Paige Wolf, Author of "Spit That Out! The Overly Informed Parents Guide to Raising Healthy Kids in the Age of Environmental Guilt"
A few years back, I remember seeing a slew of stories in the media about kids "licking" hand sanitizer off their hands and getting drunk.
I also remember panicking and doing my best to avoid the stuff.
But according to the National Capital Poison Control Center (NCPCC) in an article entitled "Hand Sanitizer: What's the Real Story," a lick of hand sanitizer won't hurt a child or anyone else.
Taking a big ol' swig of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, on the other hand, can indeed cause tiny tot drunkenness. It shouldn't come as a big surprise since hand sanitizer is anywhere from 60 to 95% alcohol, which is stiffer than beer (5-7%), wine (10-15%), and vodka (40%). The moral of that story? Alcohol-based hand sanitizers should be stored out of sight and out of reach – just like booze, mouthwash, or facial toners that contain alcohol.
Since a little lick isn't supposed to cause harm, what age can babies use hand sanitizer? There's no hard and fast rule, but the US FDA (which regulates these products) typically recommends not using them on "infants" – a term that generally implies less than one year old. Still, if you have special concerns or needs, you should discuss them with your healthcare provider to see what's right for your situation.
And when you do use hand sanitizer with small children, here are some tips for doing it safely:
- Always supervise children when they use hand sanitizer.
- Use the amount stated in the directions (usually only a small amount of hand sanitizer is necessary).
- Teach your child to rub their hands together immediately until most or all of the hand sanitizer is dry. For small children, you can rub their hands. If their hands are still wet after thorough rubbing, then air dry (and supervise until those little mitts are dry!).
- Keep all hand sanitizers locked up at home or away from your child. This can be tricky when you might have one stashed in your car, diaper bag, purse, everywhere. Keep track of where they are and keep them outta sight and outta reach.
- If you think your child has ingested any amount of hand sanitizer, call your poison control center immediately.
If you're wondering if it's all really worth the trouble, consider this: According to Cleveland Clinic, a recent study looked at whether washing with soap and water or using hand sanitizer was more effective at keeping little ones free of respiratory infections. Researchers found that over an eight-month period, the group of children that used the hand sanitizers had 23 percent fewer respiratory infections.
Of course, how well and how often children wash with soap and water is certainly a factor. And a squirt of sanitizer doesn’t work for mud-covered hands. But it’s a good option for on the go and extra protection during flu and cold season.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, “many studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60–95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Of course, good hand washing skills should be taught at an early age. But a safe and effective hand sanitizer can make a big difference for preventing the spread of germs.
Just keep the stuff out of reach of wee ones.