Is it Safe to Put Hand Sanitizer on a Cut

As sensible human beings seeking a better state of emergency preparedness, we are constantly looking for items with a multitude of uses. Most things are only really useful if they can do double duty. While there is no single miracle item we can stockpile that will solve all of life’s problems from now until the sun burns out, some things (like hand sanitizer) are more useful than others. After seeing a friend use a dab of hand sanitizer over a cut I got curious about how effective that is. It turns out not all hand sanitizers are created equal.

Is it safe to put hand sanitizer on a cut? To be honest, it probably won’t kill you. The problem is that hand sanitizer can have other additives and most use alcohol. Putting alcohol into an open wound is actually a really bad idea. There’s a lot of history behind people using alcohol, mostly ethanol, to clean wounds. People have justified and defended a lot of strange and counterproductive things, and using alcohol in wounds is one of them. Use soap and water instead.

Any Port in a Storm

It is most likely better to dump a painful bottle of sanitizer on your cut than it is to do nothing to prevent infection. If the cut is shallow it will make less of a difference. Unfortunately, if you have a deep wound and the sanitizer is alcohol based, you can do some serious damage using hand sanitizer on it. There are so many good ways to clean out a cut that using a not-so-great method that causes damage should be a last resort only.

In a world-ending scenario, a lot of people are going to end up needlessly exacerbating their problems. Trying to use ‘common knowledge’ and folk wisdom without any real understanding of the science (or in some cases lack of science) behind the idea is a serious problem. You might compare this to people who believe everything they see on TV.

This doesn’t mean that there’s no value in common wisdom, it just means you need to check your facts. Much like playing ‘telephone’ as a kid, messages can get scrambled. New studies and information can come out. Sometimes the old information is just plain wrong.

My favorite example of this is the common cold. You do not get a cold from being cold, nor can you get it from going to bed with wet hair. It’s a virus and you get it from exposure. While hand sanitizer may not be a panacea solution, you can incidentally use it to help avoid the common cold. Sanitizer is great stuff, it’s just not meant to treat cuts.

This is why I highly recommend getting an antiseptic cleaner that not only clean cuts but also eliminates the burning associated with alcohol. Click here to get the item on Amazon.

Does Hand Sanitizer Work

Context is everything. Interestingly, plenty of people blame the overuse of sanitizer for a whole host of problems. While it is true that viruses and bacteria that manage to thwart antibiotic efforts can get stronger, most hand sanitizer is an antimicrobial. They aren’t the same thing. Bacteria cannot, as far as we know, develop resistance to an antimicrobial like alcohol.

Sadly, there are some problem ingredients that are commonly used in hand sanitizers. Questionable dyes and scents are minor compared to some inclusions. Worst of all are plastic microbeads and triclosan.

Alcohol Based Sanitizer

Ethyl-alcohol based hand sanitizers do the job they say they will do for the most part. A solution of 60% or more alcohol is going to rid your hands a most of the fungus, bacteria, viruses and other contaminants that you may have picked up. It works just fine. Regular soap and water do much the same thing.

Non-Alcohol Based Sanitizers

One of the most common ingredients in non-alcohol hand sanitizers is called Benzalkonium Chloride. It works, however you must always keep it away from your eyes. Benzalkonium Chloride is a biocide that is used as a preservative. In addition, it kills microbes and helps prevent them from returning and may help as a fungicide as well.

Say No to Triclosan

If your ingredient list has triclosan, throw that stuff away! You do not want to take the risk of playing mad scientist with your body. For a laundry list of reasons that would make a whole article on their own, you want to avoid triclosan. Some of the possibilities include cancer, thyroid problems and creating resistant bacteria strains. The FDA has only just begun to understand the effects.

“Other studies have raised the possibility that exposure to triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. At this time, we don’t have enough information available to assess the level of risk that triclosan poses for the development of antibiotic resistance.”

-From the FDA Website, Consumer Updates Section

Myths of Sanitizing

The trouble with sanitizing is that it’s not always the right solution for a problem. Accordingly, different sanitizers work in different ways. Moreover, what works for sanitizing equipment can seriously damage softer surfaces, like human bodies.

There was a time when people simply assumed that pain, and itching was a part of healing. Likewise, at least in Victorian England, people believed that the worse a medicine tasted the more it was good for you. So, while this can be true, that doesn’t always mean it is the truth. Realistically, itching and pain may not be the best way to care for a cut.

Aulus Cornelius Celsus the Roman medical writer is credited with identifying the signs of inflammation. Redness, swelling, heat, and pain, as he noted, are the four accepted indicators. They are used to this day for identification. Why does this matter? Well, if you have ever put hand sanitizer on a cut, you already know the answer. Alcohol-based sanitizer will mimic those symptoms. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what it is.

How to Clean and Care For a Cut

It’s a simple process. First, stop any bleeding by applying pressure. Next, clean the cut using a non-damaging cleanser. Lastly, you should bandage it with sterile bandages. The depth of the cut may require more extensive closure. If you cut deep enough to see bone, you probably need stitches.

Perhaps you’ve noticed this article mentions soap and water often. While this predictable old chestnut is your best choice, there are other options for keeping a cut clean. One of them is a saline solution. Similarly, a mixture of saline with Benzalkonium Chloride can be effective for treating small cuts and minor injuries.

Salt may sting, but the reason is different from the burning of alcohol as it kills your tissues. Salt and saline aren’t the same things. There is salt in saline though you should never use plain salt on a wound.

Vitally, a good saline solution can be used on wounds of many kinds. Even those with exposed bone. What’s more, saline should not sting if it’s properly made. Cleaning off an exposed bone is going to hurt, however, the pain shouldn’t be caused by the saline solution.

Please note- I am not a medical professional. This advice is meant for post-apocalyptic or TEOTWAWKI circumstances where you, unfortunately, have no access to traditional medical care. That said, you’ll notice that nowhere in the wound care instructions does, “Rub some hand sanitizer on it,” make an appearance.

DIY Hand Sanitizer

Make your own easy hand sanitizer once the SHTF. To begin with, all you need is clean water or pure alcohol such as isopropyl or ethanol. Witch hazel will do fine in a pinch. Additionally, you can substitute vinegar if you need to, but the smell tends to be a bit much and it lingers. Next, simply pour your selection into a small spray bottle until it is most of the way full. Finally, add a few drops of any of the following oils to aid in germ-fighting effects without the chemical problems found in store-bought varieties. Shake and spray as needed.

  • Lavender Oil
  • Tea Tree Oil
  • Lemon Oil
  • Lime Oil

Final Thoughts

Some questions are worth answering simply to help spread information that fights the disinformation campaigns already in play. Hopefully, delving deeper into basic issues, like whether or not to put sanitizer on a cut, will make people think twice about what they think they know. Penn and Teller would say, “Everybody got a gris-gris,” which means we all believe at least one unreasonable and probably untrue thing.

A huge number of people just blithely wipe sanitizers and alcohol into wounds each day. As always, if your life could depend on an answer, no question is ever foolish save the one you fail to ask. Sometimes what you find may surprise you. Certainty is the enemy of science and good sense. When you are positive you have an answer, that is when you most need to check the facts.

Just to be safe, I recommend the following wound cleaner that doe not burn when you apply it. Click here to get this highly rated item on Amazon.

Additional Questions

  1. Can I put disinfectant on a cut? This is one of those tricky questions. You can. Depending on the type and also what other ingredients it contains, this could be a really bad idea. Certainly, you should never use industrial disinfectant on your skin, let alone on an open wound. Disinfectant is a blanket term, not just a single item or ingredient. Do your research before you put anything on or in your body.
  2. Is hand sanitizer good for my skin? Using hand sanitizer to replace soap or washing is not good for your skin. Likewise, it can be extremely drying, which can cause or exacerbate problems. However, using it in combination with a good handwashing routine is fine. You’ll want to moisturize and avoid overusing anything drying like alcohol on the skin. 
  3. Will hand sanitizer kill viruses? Most alcohol-based hand sanitizers will kill a number of problems in a few seconds. Importantly, this includes fungus, bacteria, and many viruses. Though it can help, don’t use hand sanitizer as your only line of defense.

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