Making sure our hands are as clean as possible has been a top priority for many of us recently. And rightfully so since it turns out we are in the habit of touching our faces quite often—many times without even noticing. And when we touch our faces our hands essentially serve as a vehicle for viruses or germs to enter the body. With that and the COVID-19 pandemic, washing our hands is literally a lifesaver.
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For many germs and viruses, soap and water are the best way to rid our hands of any harmful particles we may come into contact with.
When we wash our hands using soap and water (for the recommended 20 seconds), the soap breaks up the structure of the viruses membrane, which is then washed away after we rinse with water. I don’t know about you but I find it really incredible how much a little soap and water can do against a virus that basically shut the world down for over a year!
But where soap and water are not an option, especially while out running errands, hand sanitizer has been super handy (pardon the pun) and become a lot more prevalent in some of our lives (where we would otherwise not use it at all).
It is the ethanol or isopropanol in hand sanitizers that helps to break down the virus membrane, thereby helping to avoid contamination.
But is hand sanitizer eco-friendly?
While it is in fact handy, not all hand sanitizers are created equal. There are too many conventional options that contain harmful ingredients and often come in disposable plastic bottles!
Have no fear though: finding healthy alternatives to hand sanitizer is not nearly as overwhelming as you might think. Let’s just start by checking out what kind of harmful ingredients can be lurking in conventional hand sanitizers.
What is the harmful ingredient in hand sanitizer?
As is the unfortunate reality with many conventional products, hand sanitizers can contain harmful ingredients that can compromise our health unnecessarily. Ingredients like synthetic fragrances along with phthalates, parabens, and triclosan are all linked to important health concerns and should be avoided whenever possible.
Synthetic Fragrance and Phthalates in Hand Sanitizer
Manufacturers do not have to disclose the ingredients (like phthalates) that make up their fragrances. Used in a wide variety of other products including toys, nail polish, food packaging, and even flooring, phthalates are used in cosmetics for a variety of reasons. They help things smear well and they also keep the different elements in the liquid suspended and evenly distributed. While their ubiquity might signal safety to some, ubiquity is not a measure of safety pretty much anywhere.
According to Dr. Heather Patisaul of North Carolina State University, phthalates have been linked to several health concerns including hormone disruptions, lung function issues, and reproductive issues (Time, 2015).
Parabens are a group of synthetic compounds used to act as preservatives in a wide variety of products like makeup, body lotion, deodorant, shampoo, and about 90% of common grocery items. (Scientific American, 2021). Butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, and methylparaben are all examples to look out for in the products you use. Cumulative exposure to these chemicals is also known to disrupt hormone function, which is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity.
Triclosan is found in numerous consumer products including toothpaste, clothes, toys, and even teething products for babies. Commonly used for its antimicrobial properties, it is suspected to mess with our hormones, disrupting our immune systems and reproductive systems (Buzzfeed News, 2018). It also contributes to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” that become harder to kill using existing antibiotics. While it is banned in the United States, it is not in Canada. To figure out if triclosan is in your hand sanitizer or any of the products you purchase, make sure to have a look at the ingredients list.
Now that you know what chemicals to look out for in your hand sanitizer, let’s explore some other important factors that can help you find the best non-toxic and eco-friendly hand sanitizer for you.
What’s the best way to choose eco friendly hand sanitizers?
Aside from the harmful chemicals commonly found in conventional hand sanitizers, our search for natural and organic hand sanitizers involves the same criteria as all of the clean beauty brands featured on The Eco Hub. We want to make sure that the product is as safe and responsibly made as possible. So while looking out for the harmful chemicals listed above, we also ask ourselves:
Is it Canadian? Is it made in Canada (like these amazing green beauty brands)? How far does it have to travel far to get to you from where it is produced?
Is it made of natural ingredients?
What’s in the product? All-natural ingredients that you can recognize? Or a long list of practically illegible and unidentifiable chemicals? If possible, you want it to be made of safe, all-natural ingredients.
Is it certified organic?
Is the product or company certified organic? In some cases, the ingredients are but the company itself is not. This is important but not a complete deal-breaker.
Is it vegan?
Is it free of any ingredients derived from animals or insects?
Is it cruelty-free?
Meaning not tested on animals.
Does it contain any palm oil? Palm oil is largely unsustainably produced; the industry causes severe harm to wildlife and ecosystems.
Are ingredients sustainably sourced?
Where is the company getting its ingredients from? Is it done sustainably and ethically?
Does the company use environmentally-conscious packaging?
Is the product made of recyclable and/or compostable or zero waste-friendly packaging? The movement towards eco-packaging is known as Blue Beauty!
Is it inclusive?
This is more applicable for things like make-up, but inclusivity refers to the range of products offered by a brand and for whom they are created. This is a critical aspect of sustainability.
We also dive a little deeper, looking at each brands’ overall corporate responsibility to see what more they are doing to ensure and promote sustainability within and beyond their company. This includes considering practices like environmentally-conscious packaging as well as carbon offsets, water conservation initiatives, and more. There’s nothing quite like finding brands that are truly down for the cause and can make our lives just a little easier when it comes to sustainable living.
Top picks for eco friendly hand sanitizers
So what is the best natural hand sanitizer? Turns out there are quite a few options. And while the best option remains soap and water when it comes to staying safe from COVID-19—and most (not all) other germs and viruses—there are several eco friendly hand sanitizer options available to us when soap and water are not.
Made in Canada, PAUME's award-winning Antibacterial Hand Gel is sustainably packaged, cruelty-free, silicon & paraben-free, vegan, and contains no artificial fragrances. It is fragranced using a signature blend of five essential oils for luxurious whispers of cedar, citrus, rosemary, and lavender.
Just like conventional options, PAUME's formula kills 99.9% of harmful germs and bacteria but is formulated without any of the toxic chemicals. I absolutely love the texture of this natural hand sanitizer—it's not sticky at all and smells divine. I am obsessed!
Paume also offers a refillable option. You can choose from a travel-sized bottle and a PAUME pump for your home or business. Just use their Refillable Bag for cost-efficient, low waste refills. Each bottle is made with previously recycled plastic. These are meant to be refilled as many times as you want, and then recycled at the end of their life.
PAUME works with rePurpose Global, which "is a movement of conscious people and businesses going Plastic Neutral by empowering waste workers to fight our global plastic epidemic. Together, we can reduce waste, revive lives, and restore nature's balance."
Founder Amy Welsman created PAUME as a solution to the harsh, unappealing, and disposable options her family came to rely on to fend off germs after the arrival of her newborn daughter. Using only clean and nourishing ingredients and sustainable packaging (touting a Plastic Neutral Certification), PAUME is definitely one of the best natural hand sanitizer options out there.
Based in Kitchener, Ontario, Cocoon Apothecary offers a 100% plant-based hand sanitizer gel made of organic sugar alcohol. Approved by Health Canada, their formula is also vegan, cruelty-free, and sustainably packaged.
Their product is scented using certified organic sweet orange peel essential oil and is available in a 60 ml or 1000 ml option, both in glass bottles. This is another really great formula that has a wonderful fragrance and doesn't dry out your skin as so many hand sanitizers do. It's a great size to carry with you, and super easy to use. I love it!!
With the understanding that our skin actually absorbs what we put on it, Cocoon Apothecary also offers a selection of other botanical skincare products that you can feel good about putting on your skin.
Their skincare line includes products for both men and women, bath and body, and even a botanical perfume, all based on the same philosophy established by founder Jessica Burman. All of their products are made of natural oils, waters, and extracts for a decadent beauty regime without harmful chemicals. If you are looking for the best in green beauty, Cocoon is it!
Made with ingredients like blueberry fruit extract, calendula extract, and mineral-rich glacial water sourced from the northern coast of British Columbia, Graydon’s Nourishing Hand Sanitizer makes a great non-toxic hand sanitizer option as well. They also make one of my absolute favourite botanical retin-alts.
This hand sanitizer is Health Canada approved, cruelty-free, paraben-free and vegan. With its ultra-light non-gel-like formula and a crisp hint of citrus, Graydon’s Nourishing Hand Sanitizer may be just what you are looking for. It's not sticky at all and has a really lovely citrus scent.
Created by a vegan chef and yoga practitioner, Graydon Skincare promises to deliver skincare made of the most effective plant-based ingredients. As such, they provide a wide variety of skincare products, none of which contain any mineral oils, parabens, sulfates, artificial dyes, synthetic fragrances, or nut oils. Wherever possible, they strive to source ingredients that can be traced back to Canadian growers, manufacturers, and distributors.
The bottle for their hand sanitizer is plastic, but Graydon does carry a wide range that is also packaged in glass. Vegans should know that the brand also has some items that contain beeswax.
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Made in Canada, ATTITUDE’s Super leaves™ Hand Sanitizer is a gentle, cruelty-free option that is mild on hands (and non-sticky), but effective at getting rid of germs and bacteria. Enriched with lemon leaf extract, ATTITUDE likens the scent of its Super leaves™ Hand Sanitizer to Earl Grey tea and fresh cucumber, which sounds absolutely delightful.
Their Super leaves™ Hand Sanitizer is also ECOLOGO certified (which speaks to their sourcing, production, and packing practices) and EWG verified (which means their product contains no ingredients of concern). Plus, they're all packaged in bottles made of recycled HPDE #2 plastics (the easiest plastic to recycle).
Their two options include a 100ml travel-size bottle and a 473 mL refill bottle. I do really like their hand sanitizer—it's light and fresh, and I think the kids will love it.
A Canada-based company, ATTITUDE also offers a variety of personal care products like zero waste deodorant for children and adults alike, as well as zero waste refillable cleaning products. This is all with the ultimate goal of making sure they are safe and hypoallergenic while remaining effective. All of their products are also biodegradable and shipped in recycled and recyclable boxes with biodegradable/compostable peanuts.
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Featured on the Detox Market (a carefully curated green beauty marketplace with a no-compromises ethos), Province Apothecary’s Moisturizing Hand Sanitizer is another great chemical-free hand sanitizer option. It is both effective and gentle on the skin, providing the protection you need without stripping your skin.
With only 6 ingredients, we can actually pronounce (well mostly), do consider this plant-powered, all-natural, vegan option, made and sourced entirely in Canada. It is available in a 30ml or a 250ml spray bottle. It's super soft on the hands and smells lovely with zero sticky residues, another winner from Province.
All of Province Apothecary’s products are expertly made and packaged in small batches by Julie, the founder of the brand. She ensures that all products are only made using high-quality ingredients sourced from each of the Canadian provinces (hence the name which is super clever—we love it!).
Also on offer are toners, face serums, and other skincare products that surely deserve a look if you happen to be in search of green beauty products.
Made in Oakville, Ontario, this eco friendly option comes to you via Canada’s number 1 craft distillery, Maverick Distillery. Diverting much of their production to manufacturing this unscented eco-friendly hand sanitizer option, the makers of TAG VODKA and BARBURNER WHISKY answered the call for a simple chemical-free alternative to conventional hand sanitizers.
Also featured at the Detox Market, Maverick Hand Sanitizer brought together just 4 ingredients (alcohol, aqua, glycerin, and hydrogen) to provide a non-sticky, quick-drying, unscented answer to our germy woes. Their selection is available in a 2oz, 4oz or 8 oz flip cap squeeze bottle. This hand sanitizer has a ton of really great reviews. I'd like to add that they do offer refills, so even though it's a plastic bottle, you can get it refilled.
If you are located outside of Canada, please note that they do not ship internationally due to customs restrictions.
How do you make natural hand sanitizer without alcohol?
Making your own DIY hand sanitizer is also a great option if you’ve been looking for healthy alternatives to hand sanitizer. By making your own DIY hand sanitizer you can purposely avoid certain ingredients and control the quality of ingredients you want to use as well.
Because you know I have your back, I of course have a great all-natural hand sanitizer recipe for you. It contains no alcohol and is made using only all-natural ingredients you should be able to get your hands on like witch hazel and essential oils. By using all organic ingredients, this recipe can also easily make for an organic hand sanitizer option if that’s what you are looking for.
When it comes to hand sanitizer, even the most eco-conscious of us cannot deny that it can seriously come in handy. Even so, these brands show us that we can still be conscientious when reaching for it. So, to find the best non-toxic options, just remember what to look for.
Start by considering what it’s made of by making sure ingredients are all-natural, vegan, cruelty-free, and contain no palm oil or any of the harmful chemicals commonly found in hand sanitizer (that is: synthetic perfumes/phthalates, parabens and triclosan). Then try your best to purchase the better alternatives you do find from local companies that also source their ingredients sustainably, and use environmentally-conscious packaging.
If you find the time you can even make your own alcohol-free option using my all-natural hand sanitizer recipe. But whatever you decide to do, we simply hope this will help you make the best choice for you.
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