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Why should you not use topical alcohol to sanitize?

Most commercially available topical alcohols contain chemical additives that make them unfit to drink. Although you may not be consuming them directly, applying them to your skin (the largest organ in your body) is certainly not a healthy practice. Ultimately, some of those chemicals will penetrate the skin and get into your body.

Furthermore, alcohol is a powerful solvent and when stored in plastic, it extracts many of the plasticizers and other chemical additives contained within the plastic. Those chemicals pose an even greater risk and have been linked to many different health problems today (see The Inconvenient Truth About Plastics).

All these chemicals have relatively low concentrations in the alcohol. However, when applied to the skin or onto an object, the alcohol evaporates and leaves a concentrated chemical residue behind. In addition, the alcohol dries out the skin and dissolves some of its natural  oils. This creates an unhealthy environment where more opportunistic microorganisms and viruses can take hold.

Alcohol will certainly kill most of the bacteria on your skin, however that is not necessarily a good thing. In a healthy individual, there are more microorganisms on and in the body than the total number of human cells within it! A robust bacterial ecology on and in our bodies is essential for good health.

Furthermore, when many bacteria (specifically gram-negative) are killed, they leave behind a multitude of endotoxins or LPS (lipopolysaccharides) from their cell walls. These molecules cause strong immune responses in the body. Their effect on the skin is not well understood but they likely have some risk.

If you insist on using alcohol, it is wiser to procure some grain alcohol from a liquor distributor, dilute it to 60 or 70% with pure water, and use that to sanitize. This solution should be stored in glass. Note that any good quality liquor for consumption is packaged in glass and typically contains only about 40% alcohol.

If you are unable to obtain grain alcohol, a suitable alternative is a good quality, clear liquor or spirit such as Gin or Vodka. This may seem amusing but is actually much safer and healthier to use on the skin or a surface than topical alcohol.

Unequivocally, the healthiest practice to sanitize (and clean) is washing with a good quality, healthy soap* and clean, hot water. This not only kills microorganisms and viruses (including COVID-19) but rinses away ensuing endotoxins. Additionally, any soil, grease, or grime that can harbor bacteria and pathogens are also removed in the process.

No need to wash too frequently or before handling everything... a healthy skin flora will develop quickly and help to control transient pathogenic organisms.

*A good quality, healthy soap is one that does not contain preservatives, antibacterials, excess fragrances, or other chemicals. Handmade soaps prepared by traditional saponification of good quality oils are a great choice.

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