You woke up late, rushed to work on time, and as you get to the office you realize you forgot to put on deodorant. You think about the hand sanitizer you carry in your purse and apply it to your armpits because it doesn't give you time to go back home or make a stop in Walgreens.

That day you discover that your hand sanitizer saved your life and you think: why not use it daily instead of using deodorant?...Well, here's why you shouldn't do it.

Hand Sanitizer and Ethanol

Hand sanitizer is a liquid, gel or foam generally used to kill many viruses/bacteria on the hands. This product made from alcohol complements hand hygiene with soap and water, however, it has become the most popular way to sanitize hands in a fast and effective way when we do not have water.

Most of the time, antibacterial gels are composed of ethyl alcohol (ethanol) in high concentrations to ensure their effectiveness. Occasional use of these products probably won't make any difference to your skin, but if you start using them daily you'll notice changes you won't like at all.

Ethyl alcohol can have a dehydrating effect, which sweeps away the skin's natural oils and damages cells. This weakens the skin's moisture barrier, leaving it exposed to (and less able to defend itself from) external factors such as weather, pollution, and irritants. 

So one of the immediate consequences that you will notice if you start using this type of products in your armpits will be dry, red, inflamed, rough and sensitive skin. The alternative? Use products designed specifically for that area of your body that have been made with other types of alcohols (such as stearic alcohol) that are not irritating, help with the texture of the product and also keep them stable on the bathroom shelf.

Ethyl alcohol evaporates almost immediately after applying it to the skin, leaving a feeling of cooling, which might make you think that the damage it produces is not so serious. Unfortunately, research reveals that this is just an illusion. 

Alcohol immediately damages the skin and begins a chain reaction, which continues long after it has evaporated. Once alcohol destroys your protective barrier, it won't be able to protect your skin.

A 2003 study published in the Journal of the Infectious Diseases Hospital found that with regular exposure to alcohol-based products, even cleansers could be harmful – as the skin is not able to retain its own hydration and aggressive cleansing ingredients such as soap can penetrate it, damaging the protective barrier.

Alcohol also affects skin cells and attracts free radicals. In a laboratory study, a few drops of alcohol (at 3% concentration) were placed on skin cells, (but keep in mind that cosmetic products have concentrations ranging from 5% to 60% or more) and over the course of two days, cell death increased by 26%. It also destroyed all the substances in the cell that reduce inflammation and defend it against free radicals.

Artificial Colorant and Fragances in Hand Sanitizers

Another reason why you should not use antibacterial gel daily as a deodorant in your armpits is because it contains artificial dyes and fragrances that often contain a cocktail of irritating chemicals and can lead to rashes, intensification of sensitivity, inflammation and redness of the skin. An interesting fact: artificial colors and fragrances have no benefit for our skin.

artificial colorants in hand sanitizer

Hand Sanitizers and Benzene

In addition to containing ethyl alchol, artificial colors and fragrances, which can be hormone disruptors. Recently an independent laboratory based in New Haven, Connecticut called Valisure conducted a study of 260 bottles of 168 brands of hand sanitizer and found that 17 percent of the samples contained detectable levels of benzene. Twenty-one bottles, or 8%, contained benzene above two parts per million, a time limit the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set for liquid hand sanitizers to ease reduced supply during Covid times.

It is unclear how benzene was made present in the products. It may have been introduced during the manufacturing process when alcohol is purified, Valisure said.

While benzene should be removed in the final manufacturing steps after the alcohol is purified, it may not have been, Valisure said. The hand sanitizer is also made by adding a powder called carbomer, often made with benzene, to create viscosity, the independent lab said.

According to the American Cancer Society “Benzene is known to cause cancer, based on evidence from studies in both people and lab animals. The link between benzene and cancer has largely focused on leukemia and other cancers of blood cells”.

The analysis also found high levels of methanol in hand sanitizers. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers should not normally contain methanol as they are a toxic form of alcohol to humans.

“Methanol can dehydrate the skin, causing dry skin, and can result in dermatitis to the affected region. The main problem with methanol is that it is absorbed through the skin and can result in toxic levels of this chemical,” said Dr. Michael Dannenberg, the chair of dermatology at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, California.

“Methanol toxicity can result from ingesting or from absorption through the lungs (i.e., inhaling the methanol fumes) or absorption through the skin. Absorption through the skin can be a problem for anyone, but young children are at the highest risk of this,” he said.

The best thing you can do to stay clean and free of unpleasant odors is to use products specifically designed for that.  You will have more benefits in the short, medium and long term without putting your health at risk.