You can't beat a good wash

Local | Sophie Hui 17 May 2019

Hand sanitizers and wet wipes contain chemical components that could cause allergies and even harm the reproductive system, medical experts warn.

Szeto King-ho, a specialist in emergency medicine, said a third of patients during the infectious disease peak season suffer from skin diseases.

He said although there are no statistics on how many people had skin diseases due to allergies to sanitizers and wipes, these products contain artificial fragrances, disinfectants, humectants, preservatives and fluorescent materials that could increase the risk of skin diseases.

In fact, he said, bacteria can be killed by using hand soap and water to wash hands properly.

The right steps start by wetting the hands with water, applying soap, rubbing for at least 20 seconds from the palms to the back of hands, between the fingers, the back of the fingers, thumbs, fingertips and wrists. The process is concluded by rinsing the hands with water and drying them.

People should also be aware of the alcohol content of hand sanitizers as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States suggests people use products with 60-95 percent of alcohol so bacteria is killed.

Szeto also said people should check labels on sanitizers and select products containing ethanol while avoiding those with isopropanol.

Isopropanol does not evaporate rapidly and will stay on the skin for a longer period of time. It get into the dermis if there is a skin breakage and result in dermatitis.

Normally, he said, an inflammation will be brought under control by using steroid cream for a short period and applying emollient to moisturize the skin.

The Environmental Working Group in the United States said fragrances can cause allergies and dermatitis, and may even affect the reproductive system.

Humectants can be polluted by carcinogen 1,4-dioxide, which can cause cancer in the liver, lung, skin and gallbladder.

On a related note, William Yu Yuen-ping, chief executive of the World Green Organization, urged people to reduce the use of wet wipes as they cannot be recycled and are non-biodegradable.

"If a wet wipe goes into the sea it will release microplastics and worsen marine pollution," he said. "We suggest people wash their hands with hand soap and water or to clean the skin with a wet towel.

"Besides reducing the impact to the environment, people can also reduce the chance of coming into contact with chemicals, which would be a win-win situation for people's health and the environment."

The green group added that even though some products claim they are "fine to flush" or "flushable," experts in Britain found a wet wipe does not decompose like toilet tissue in a sewage system.

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