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Think before you clean your hand with that hand sanitiser

Sanitizers and wet wipes are our go-to options in situations where we need a handy solution to maintain personal hygiene. The wet-wipe industry in particular has flourished with manufacturers offering an ever broader range of wipes – for sensitive skin, babies' bottoms, removing make-up, and what have you. The thing, though, is that there are adverse consequences too. While these disinfecting and antimicrobial cleaning products may help in keeping us safe from microbes, their overuse should be avoided as they are known to have harmful effects on the environment as also on the health of human beings.

Let’s look at some of the common health issues associated with excessive usage of wet wipes and hand sanitizers.

Dry skin and skin disorders

Many sanitizers and wipes have alcoholic components. They are indicated on the label as isopropyl, ethanol and n-propanol. They tend to dry the skin and can irritate it, dehydrate it, and make it flaky. The excessive use of these alcohols increases the chance of developing dermatitis. Dehydration due to alcohol exposure can also lead to development of fine lines and wrinkles.

The World Health Organization refers to antimicrobial resistance as ‘a looming crisis in which common and treatable infections are becoming life-threatening’.

Antimicrobial resistance

Prolonged exposure to the disinfecting chemicals in wipes and sanitizers can lead to antimicrobial resistance. When exposed to these chemicals, most bacteria will die, but some may survive and multiply, eventually becoming resistant to antibiotics.

Toxic chemicals

Many sanitizers and wet wipes contain toxic chemicals that can cause immediate acute side effects such as skin and eye irritation, as well as lead to chronic and long-term conditions.

Look out for these toxic chemicals in the ingredients list:

  • Triclosan: It is an antibiotic commonly present in disinfecting sanitizers and wet wipes. Prolonged exposure to this chemical can irritate your skin and also lead to antimicrobial resistance. Triclosan is also known to alter the endocrine functions in animals and have carcinogenic effects on human beings. Many times it has been traced in human urine, serum and breast milk.
  • Parabens: Parabens are a group of compounds widely used as preservative in many products including wet wipes and sanitizers. They are added to wet wipes and sanitizers to stabilize them and increase the shelf life. Parabens are known to cause premature ageing, hormonal disruptions and skin irritation.
  • Pthalates: Pthalates are used in wet wipes as plasticizer (something that is added to plastic to make it more flexible). They are also present in some of the fragrances added to the wipes. They are known to cause hormonal disruptions.
  • Sulphates: They can be identified on the label as sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES), also known as sodium laureth sulfate. It a common eye and skin irritant. Sometimes, sodium laureth sulfates are contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane as it is a byproduct formed during the production of SLES. This byproduct is carcinogenic.

No Good for the Environment either

They are hugely convenient, no doubt, but the widespread use of these products is causing big problems for the environment.

  • Accumulation of toxic chemicals  

The chemicals in our sanitizers and wipes pass from our hands down our drains and out into sewage-treatment plants. Many studies conclude that these chemicals are present in high levels even in the treated water. Accumulation of these products in the environment leads to their increased concentration. Long-term exposure to these is linked to various health disorders.

  • Accumulation of used wet wipes  

Just because wet wipes are technically ‘disposable’ does not mean they disintegrate and disappear; instead, what is happening due to the ever-increasing number of ‘flushed down the toilet’ wipes is nothing short of an environmental havoc.

Wet wipes that are flushed end up blocking the sewage system and quiet often end up in the ocean, impacting marine life. Marine animals and plants can be easily exposed to the chemicals in these wet wipes. The harmful chemicals then enter the food chain via seafood.

Whether broken down into microparticles of plastic that plankton consume at the bottom of the food chain, or are mistaken for food by larger sea creatures, this means the likelihood that plastics are ending up on our plates is more and more.

wet wipes

Wet wipes ‘to be eliminated in UK’ in effort to save marine life, government says

Household wet wipes will be banished in the UK as part of Michael Gove’s crackdown on plastic being thrown away and damaging ecosystems, the government has said.

If they are outlawed, shoppers will no longer be able to buy the wipes, which are mostly made of polyester and contain millions of microfibres impregnated with chemicals.

Tens of thousands of wet wipes are sold in Britain each year, and despite public awareness campaigns, many are still flushed into lavatories, where they end up clogging mains sewers, and go on to kill fish in rivers and other marine life as the fibres are released.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “As part of our 25-year environment plan, we have pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste, and that includes single-use products like wet wipes.

“We are continuing to work with manufacturers and retailers of wet wipes to make sure labelling on packaging is clear and people know how to dispose of them properly – and we support the industry’s efforts to make their customers aware of this important issue.”

Wet wipes, which contain plastic, slowly break down into microplastics that are then ingested by marine life, with deadly consequences.

Source: The Independent

Divya Patwal


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