In particular during the cold season, fear of colds, influenza or other illnesses drives many people to using hand disinfectants. Most of the time, however, disinfecting your hands isn’t necessary and may even be harmful, as the author Juliane Gutmann recently wrote in an article published by the Frankfurter Rundschau.
Among others, she refers to Dr. Ernst Tabori, Medical Director of the German Consulting Centre for Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Control (Deutsches Beratungszentrum für Hygiene, BZH), who considers cleaning your hands with water and soap to be sufficient for private environments. “At home, if our hands are dirty, we want them to be clean – this is a job for conventional soap, not disinfectants”, as the Hannoversche Allgemeine previously quoted Dr. Tabori. Additional disinfection would not be required. “Soap will remove household bacteria and viruses without any difficulty.”
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) advises healthy people not to use disinfectants. Similar to antibiotics, excessive disinfection not only destroys pathogens but also the bacteria which are good and important for a healthy skin. “Our skin is a unique, carefully coordinated and stable ecosystem, kept in balance by microorganisms (the skin flora) which are naturally present, and which may be disrupted by excessive cleaning (and in particular by disinfection)”, says the BfR. Application of disinfectants harms your skin’s natural protective acid barrier, compromising skin health.
Reducing bacterial diversity may also lead to allergies. In addition, the ingredients of disinfectants may cause antibiotic resistance (cf. http://www.gesunde-bakterien.de/en/rise-in-antibiotic-resistance-caused-by-triclosan-in-household-and-cosmetic-products/). On the whole, disadvantages outweigh advantages when it comes to using hand disinfectants in your personal environment. Use in hospitals, medical practices, or care homes, however, is different. But here, too, we have to realise that whenever we apply disinfectant to protect ourselves from pathogens, we may simultaneously damage healthy skin and the healthy bacteria on our skin. Much more important than excessive disinfection is frequent skin care to stabilise your healthy skin flora (Holz et al 2017).
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