How Disinfectant Products Affect Your Skin

We reached out to two dermatologists to find out how disinfectants and sanitizing products affect our skin. This is what we found.

During this pandemic, we're all taking extra precautions to prevent and reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

Many of us have stocked up on disinfectant products such as wipes, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies and use them regularly.

With the increased use of disinfectant and sanitizing products, we wonder: how do they affect our skin?

Are disinfectant products doing more harm than good? Is good old soap and water a better alternative? And can they destroy the skin's collagen (aka what keeps it looking youthful)? 

To learn more about the topic, we chatted with two dermatologists.

Below, they share all the details of how disinfectant products affect our skin, plus best practices to ensure our skin stays clean and healthy.


First things first, what are disinfectant products, and what are they made of?


"Disinfectant products contain various compounds that collectively help kill bacteria, some viruses, and fungi," says dermatologist Rina Allawh, MD, FAAD, of Montgomery Dermatology. "Such ingredients are then diluted in water in a certain concentration so that there is an optimum concentration to attain a perfect balance of killing germs by either poking holes through the wall, dissolving the bacteria wall itself and/or breaking the bonds that hold the wall together."

Dr. Allawh says that alcohol is the active ingredient in most disinfectant products, as it is an antimicrobial that kills bacteria.

They may also contain the following ingredients that help kill bacteria and most viruses.

● Chlorine and chlorine-related compounds
● Formaldehyde
● Glutaraldehyde
● Hydrogen peroxide
● Iodine solution
● Phenol


How disinfectant products affect the skin


Although alcohol, the active ingredient in disinfectant products, is effective at killing bacteria and viruses, it can also compromise the protective barrier of the skin.

This can result in irritated, dry, flaky skin, and sometimes even skin rashes. If you start to notice any of these symptoms, it's best to lay off or minimize your use of the products to avoid more adverse reactions.


Disinfectant products are not meant for routine use


It may be tempting to whip out your hand sanitizer every five minutes. However, board-certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, of SkinSafe Dermatology and Skin Care says hand sanitizers should only be used when you may have been exposed to infectious particles and aren't able to wash your hands.

So, if you're at home and have no outside exposure, for example, regular handwashing with soap and water will do the trick.

As always, be sure you are washing your hands before cooking and eating and after using the restroom, opening up packages, or throwing out the trash.

The same goes for antibacterial soup. Dr. Shainhouse says it is not recommended for routine use. "They have not been shown to be more effective than regular soap at reducing infection risk,” she says. “They only kill certain bacteria and not viruses or fungus, and they can promote bacterial resistance."


How disinfectant products affect the skin's collagen


When appropriately used, Dr. Shainhouse says, hand sanitizer, antiseptics or disinfectants won't affect the skin's collagen. However, Dr. Allawh notes that when your skin reacts to a particular product, that may lead to a breakdown of the skin's collagen.

You can protect your skin collagen with good quality collagen supplements.

To prevent this, Dr. Allawh recommends applying moisturizer or a thick emollient such as petroleum jelly to your skin after using disinfectant products. This will protect the skin barrier and may prevent the breakdown of collagen as well as the formation of skin rashes. She also recommends washing your hands with a gentle cleanser after using disinfectant products to remove the harmful chemicals from your skin.


The best types of disinfectant products


When you're shopping for disinfectant products, wipes, in particular, Dr. Allawh recommends looking for ones that are composed of textile materials such as cotton or polyester, which are gentle enough for everyday use. "The wipes contain cellulosic fibers which are implemented to ensure high water retention and storage of the compounds," she says.

In general, Dr. Allawh adds, wipes labeled as "natural" are often less irritating and just as effective at disinfecting as they contain the main active ingredients that kill most bacterias, viruses, and germs. However, they don't include compounds that are often the culprit behind allergic reactions such as formaldehyde, fragrance, and other detergents.


Disinfectant product best practices to protect your skin


To sum things up, here are the best practices Dr. Allawh and Dr. Shainhouse recommend following when using disinfectant products to ensure your skin stays clean and healthy.

1. Opt for handwashing when possible.

"Physically cleaning the hands by lathering with soap and rinsing with warm water and then wiping dry is the most effective method to clean/ sanitize the skin," Dr. Shainhouse says. So if there's a sink, soap, and water nearby, opt to use that versus reaching for a disinfectant or sanitizing product.

2. If you use hand sanitizer, you still need to wash up.

Hand sanitizers are great when you're out and about and can't get to a sink, but as soon as you have the opportunity to wash your hands, do so.

The sanitizing sprays and gels don't remove dirt and can build up and cause irritation, Dr. Shainhouse says. Washing your hands as soon as possible removes the residue from your skin.

3. Moisturize your skin often.

Increased frequency of handwashing means your skin can potentially become dry and even develop fissures and cuts, Dr. Shainhouse says, which makes you more prone to picking up infections. Avoid this by being religious about applying hand moisturizer after washing your hands.

She also recommends choosing a hand sanitizer that contains added moisturizing ingredients such as aloe vera.

4. Use gloves when using disinfectant cleaning products.

When it comes to disinfectant cleaning products you use to clean surfaces in your home, they usually contain chemicals and are too strong to use on the skin. They can cause skin irritation, itching, burning, redness, swelling, or dryness.

The chemicals in the products can also be absorbed by the skin and cause other health issues.

To protect your skin, Dr. Shainhouse advises looking at the instructions carefully. Some products may be very potent and require diluting or wearing gloves.

If you don't have any gloves on hand, be sure to wash your hands as soon as you're done cleaning.

Last but not least, the benefits of drinking premium quality liquid collagen can help strengthen your skin collagen and prevent damages that can results in dryness and wrinkles.

Learn how Taut liquid Collagen can help restore youthful healthy skin.