Hey mamas! This article is a follow up piece to this one on bacterial contamination in commercial hand sanitizers. If you’d like even more reasons to avoid chemical sanitizers, check out this post on triclosan.
I Exfoliate In My Sleep
That, mamas, is the beauty of motherhood. Kids wake you up in the dead of night because they need to nurse, or can’t find their favorite purple dinosaur, or wrecked your car the first day you bought it (sorry, mom!)
But on the other hand they teach you power of breast milk to cure pink eye/burns/earaches, redefine the therapeutic mud mask, and of course smuggle sandbox deposits into bed so you can scrub your way to ultra-soft skin all night long.
Or maybe that’s just me.
You see, even though I’m about to devote a whole post to making hand sanitizer, I believe the first line of defense against bacteria is to be less “sanitary.” My kids think this is great, because part of that philosophy means they don’t take baths everyday. I think it’s mostly great, except when I’ve overlooked their plot to pack sand in their armpits and dump it in my bed!
But so be it. I have my reasons, and first and foremost on that list is . . .
The Acid Mantle
If you’ve never heard of it, “The acid mantle is a very fine, slightly acidic film on the surface of the skin acting as a barrier to bacteria, viruses and other potential contaminants that might penetrate the skin. It is secreted by sebaceous glands. The pH of the skin is between 4.5 and 6.2, so it is acidic. [Bacteria, viruses] and other chemicals are primarily alkaline in nature and the skin’s moderate acidity helps to neutralize their chemical effects.”
Basically, this means that our skin has a built-in protection system which neutralizes quite a bit of pathogenic bacteria and viruses on contact. Beneficial bacteria thrive in this type of environment, further protecting us from harm. Unfortunately, modern “hygiene” in the form of alkaline soaps, shampoos and lotions damage the acid mantle and make us more vulnerable to infection. We’ll talk more about that in a bit, but here’s the twist:
Kids don’t have an acid mantle.
Yep, when babies are born they quickly build up an acid mantle to protect themselves in the early stages of life.   However, throughout most of childhood the acidity of their skin (PH) stabilizes around a 7, which is perfectly balanced between acid and alkaline. Why do I think this is? I’m so glad you asked! I believe it’s because childhood is the training ground for a child’s immune system, and the body recognizes this window of opportunity. When puberty hits the body adjusts it’s PH to create a higher acid mantle, and we enjoy the protective benefits for life, provided we don’t wash it off!
Am I Saying We Should Never Wash Our Hands?
Of course not! Mamas, I have been in some nasty places. One summer I lived in a condemned warehouse where sewage leaked from the roof of the bathroom (don’t ask, I was helping with a children’s program). I have stayed in places where “flushing the toilet” meant grabbing a bucket and throwing it in the bowl. I just try not to go overboard and destroy the protection I already have.
So what do we do when hand washing is not an option? Hand sanitizer, of course! Many of you asked what I think of Clean Well, and my answer is I don’t really know. The Skin Deep database lists it as very low on the toxicity scale, but several of the ingredients (like sodium decylglucosides hydroxypropl sulfonate), have little or no data collected on them yet. For that reason, I prefer to make my own hand sanitizer at home. There are tons of recipes out there, but here are my favorites. They’re all made with essential oils, which have potent anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties (even against superbugs like MRSA!)
Note: You may notice that none of these formulas contain rubbing alcohol, which is often used in homemade sanitizers. This is because alcohol disrupts the acid mantle and kills good bacteria along with the bad.
Homemade Hand Sanitizer Recipes
This homemade “Lysol” recipe from my favorite herbalist Katja Swift was found to be more effective than standard hospital sanitizer, and it smells great! To convert it from an air purifying spray to a hand spritzer just find a smaller bottle and throw it in your purse!
LOVE this recipe from DIY Natural (update: a reader pointed out that some witch hazel contains 70% alcohol, so you might want to skip the small amount recommended in this recipe. Or you could buy some from Mountain Rose Herbs, which contains only 30%)
I also really like this one from Lea at Nourishing Treasures, though I’d probably increase the essential oil ratio a smidge and switch out the orange oil for a stronger anti-microbial like thyme, lavender, rosemary, oregano, eucalyptus, thieves* or Doterra’s On Guard blend.
Colloidal silver is also a great antibacterial, but I don’t have a product recommendation because I’m not sure which ones contain nanoparticles and which don’t.
*Thieves essential oil blend was tested at Weber State University and found to be over 98% effective against microbes
Do you have a favorite hand sanitizer recipe? Share it below!