Looking for natural alternatives to Purell hand sanitizer (or conventional hand sanitizer in general)? We’ve got you covered! Read on for some general “best practice” hand sanitizer tips, what to look for on the label, all natural hand sanitizer swaps for Purell and more!
Swap this for That is a series where we take reader questions from the blog and social media on tough-to-find clean swaps—and answer them right here! If you like this, be sure to check out our natural swaps for Aquaphor, healthier alternatives for CeraVe Cleansers, and our clean swap for children’s Tylenol.
Why use hand sanitizers?
Let’s be honest: No one wants to mess around when it comes to protecting yourself and your family against the current pandemic. One proven effective way to do that is to practice hand hygiene including frequent hand washing and/or the use of hand sanitizers.
Not All Hand Sanitizers are Created Equal
When the FDA suspended over the counter hand sanitizer guidelines due to the 2020 hand sanitizer shortage, everyone and their mom started creating hand sanitizers…which in turn led to the FDA warning the public not to use this list of over 200 hand sanitizers. (2)
This made hand sanitizer shopping real confusing, real quick.
One of the most prevalent hand sanitizers on the market (and not on the FDA’s do not use list) is Purell. It’s so widespread that it’s often used as a shorthand for “hand sanitizer” in general (think Kleenex vs. tissue).
Since it’s so easily available, we wanted to break down its ingredients, and give you some alternatives to consider. Yes, we’re talking about Purell, but the info here can be applied to many mainstream hand sanitizers as well.
Ingredients to Consider in Purell
To be honest, after looking at Purell, it really didn’t raise that many concerns outside of synthetic fragrance.
Fragrance is a non-disclosure issue that potentially contains components linked to endocrine disruption (3), birth defects (4) and more.
Ingredients to Consider in Hand Sanitizers in General
But let’s take a step back and talk big picture. Here are some additional ingredients to consider when shopping for hand sanitizer in general.
- 1-propanol, methyl alcohol and methanol – There is current concern about the rise of hand sanitizers contaminated with 1-propanol (methyl alcohol or methanol) instead of 2-propanol (isopropyl alcohol). These products are often labeled as using ethanol, so it’s more of an adulteration issue…meaning you won’t see “1-propanol” or is aliases listed on the ingredient list. The FDA has issued warnings due to increased risk of exposure. (5)
Methanol, or wood alcohol, is a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested, and can be life-threatening when ingested.(5)
- Benzalkonium chloride – Benzalkonium chloride is another commonly used ingredient (broad spectrum antimicrobial) in hand sanitizers, but most public health and medical professionals prefer alcohol over this ingredient.This ingredient is found on many restricted lists in clean beauty due to concerns about human toxicity and ecosystem toxicity (crustaceans). (6)
- Fragrance – An ingredient to avoid for many reasons. The main reason being a non disclosure issue because simply listing “fragrance” on a label doesn’t tell consumers what the actual ingredients are. Fragrance can contain thousands of components, some of which are benign but some can be harmful like phthalates or plasticizers that can be linked to birth defects (4) and endocrine disruption (3).
To be honest, Purell sits on the lower end of the spectrum of products to be worried about, in my opinion. And if you grab the fragrance-free version, even less so. All of this to say, if you use Purell here or there, don’t sweat it – the benefits outweigh the concerns. Although there are definitely some more natural alternatives.
Why Purell (and other hand sanitizers) Work
The active ingredient in Purell is 70% ethanol. Published literature indicates that ethanol is highly effective at inactivating enveloped viruses, including strains of coronavirus. (7)
In fact, Purell Healthcare Advanced Hand Sanitizer (both gel and foam) was tested and found to reduce the SARS-CoV-2 virus below detectable limits when applied to hands for 30 seconds. (8)
This study was conducted in vitro (not on humans or living organisms), so it can’t account for factors that impact efficacy such as hand coverage, hand rubbing, alcohol evaporation and skin topography. (8)
So to be sure your hand sanitizer works for you, use best hand sanitizer application practices…like these.
Current Best Practices for Hand Sanitizer Application
- Washing hands with soap and water trumps all. (9)
- Be sure to apply enough hand sanitizer to cover all surfaces of the hand. (9)
- Hands need to stay wet with sanitizer for 30 seconds. (8)
Although research to date does not yet indicate a difference in efficacy between gels, foams and sprays, knowing that hands need to stay wet for 30 seconds, I am going to personally recommend a gel over a spray…I mean unless you want to continuously spray your hands for 30 seconds straight to ensure proper wetness. 🤪
Best All Natural Hand Sanitizers Swaps for Purell
Once you start looking at labels, you’ll see the active ingredients (and percentages) in hand sanitizers vary. So to find better natural alternatives for Purell, we looked at gel options that also had the same active ingredient as Purell: 70% ethanol.
The cool part? These swaps also include skin-supportive ingredients like aloe. 😍
Green Goo Hand Sanitizer Unscented | $5.95
Green Goo is a USA-made, women-owned, Certified B Corp brand that offers affordable skin and bodycare, including this handy (pun intended), unscented hand sanitizer. The very simple ingredient list, plus the fact that the brand offers the formula in sustainable, renewable, BPA-free sugarcane tubes, AND that they donate a portion of their monthly hand sanitizer sales to COVID relief makes this one a win.
Unscented Ingredients: Ethyl Alcohol 70% v/v., Water, Isopropyl Alcohol, Carbomer, Aminomethyl Propanol (less than .3%).
Shop Green Goo Hand Sanitizer here.
Acure Hand Sanitizer Gel | $9.99
Acure comes in clutch with their vegan + cruelty-free gel hand sanitizer formulated with aloe to help prevent mid-winter lizard hands. We also love this brand because it’s widely accessible and can usually be found at Target, Ulta, Whole Foods and even some convenience stores like CVS and Walmart. You can also recycle all of your Acure empties here.
Ingredients: Ethyl Alcohol 70%, water, glycerin, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, carbomer, amidomethyl propanol.
Shop Acure Gel Hand Sanitizer here!
All Good Hand Sanitizer Gel (Citrus) | $7
Another Certified B Corp, plus a 1% For the Planet, and reef-friendly brand, All Good Hand Sanitizer gel also employs aloe and glycerin to keep hands from cracking and irritation.
Unscented Ingredients: Ethyl alcohol 70% Aqua, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Glycerin, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Citrus Limon Peel Oil
Shop All Good Hand Sanitizer here.
JenApril 14, 2023
Hi Lisa! I found this post of yours but it’s a little old. Do you have any new recommendations? Green Goo doesn’t make their hand sani anymore. I used to use Pipette but they stopped making theirs also. Pipette directed me to their sister company, Olika, but they have that generic “fragrance” issue that I want to avoid. Thanks!
Lisa FennessyApril 17, 2023
Hi Jen! Thanks for brining this to my attention, we will look into it! xo, L