Investigative reporting ain't what it use to be. Today's mainstream media tends to go for the sensational story that often ends up being more misleading than helpful. Here's an example of what I'm referring to: Is Hand Sanitizer Toxic?.
You squirt it on your hands as you catch the office elevator for lunch, and then again on your way home. You have bottles in your bathroom and kitchen, too -- and you use them often.
You think (hope?) that your hand-sanitizer habit is protecting you from colds and flu and gross bugaboos like E. coli. But even if it isn't, it's harmless. Right?
The rumor: Hand sanitizer is not only ineffective, it's toxic
Word on the street has it that despite how clean your hands feel after using a hand sanitizer, they're actually still dirty -- and using sanitizers might actually lower your resistance to disease. Is it true?!
The verdict: Soap and water beats sanitizers hands-down
When it comes to safety and effectiveness, the main concern with hand sanitizers is triclosan, which is the main antibacterial ingredient in nonalcoholic hand sanitizers.
"There's no good evidence that triclosan-containing products have a benefit," says Allison Aiello, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan. In Europe and the United States, hospitals won't even use them, she notes; it's thought that they don't reduce infections or illness.
So, what's the problem here? The two leading brands of hand sanitizer in the US -- Purell and Germ-X -- are alcohol-based and do not contain triclosan. The issue, it would seem, concerns generic and knockoff products (ones you might find in a discount store). This point is not emphasized in the story at all.
As it turns out, alcohol-based hand sanitizers ARE effective at killing germs. This is what is used in hospitals across the country. But the average consumer who reads or hears this dire-sounding report most likely will come away with the idea that all hand sanitizers are potentially dangerous. In a world bombarded with bacteria and viruses, that incorrect message could lead to more illness, not less.