Is your hand sanitiser safe?
While Australia lags in regulating unsafe ingredients, Europe leads the way. The latest ingredient to be regulated by ECHA in Europe is benzalkonium chloride which is found commonly in hand sanitisers here in Australia. Why are Europe considering banning it?
Reported reactions to it include rashes, skin irritation, breathing difficulties, eye conditions and symptoms related to asthma (1).
Benzalkonium chloride is part of the group of ingredients called QUATS or quaternary ammonium compounds. There are hundreds of them, chemicals with different names and acronyms making it difficult to know if you’re unwittingly using them or not. They are commonly found in household products like toilet cleaners, disinfectant wipes and in laundry sanitisers. They are also found in a vast range of personal products such as anti-bacterial soaps, antiseptics, contact lens solution, hand wash and sanitiser – all products that you may use on a regular basis.
QUATS are stringently regulated by the European Union for use in body and hand products (2) with benzalkonium chloride in particular under review for all products used on the skin or food surfaces. The US has also commenced studies into possible respiratory issues and is monitoring use of them in schools.
Symptoms can occur hours or even days after contact and can spread across the entire body in more severe cases.
Dermatologists warn that the use of some disinfectants can lead to dry, inflamed and cracked skin. Dr Leona Yip, a doctor based in Queensland, has said, “(I) have seen a huge increase in the number of cases of a severe form of skin dermatitis resembling chemical burns commonly caused by and active ingredient in laundry disinfectants called benzylkonium chloride". She goes on to say, “This strong skin irritant often causes severe skin burning and a rash that… typically is difficult to treat and usually takes weeks or months to clear…”.
It is however, an ingredient still used in products on Australian shelves and can be found under some of the following names;
Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides (C12-16)
Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (C14 60%, C16 30%, C12 5%, C18 5%)
Alkyl dimethyl ethylbenzyl ammonium chloride (C12-14)
Alkyl dimethyl ethylbenzyl ammonium chlorides (C12-18)
BZK, BKC, BAK or BAC
Despite its various guises, the concerns are all the same.
Reading back labels which list ingredients is the only real way to avoid these ingredients here in Australia - until regulations catch up.