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Today I had my first sighting of someone wearing a surgical mask in public. I'd obviously heard about this, but when you see it for the first time on your morning commute, it's quite shocking. New Yorkers are seriously worried about swine flu - and understandably so! There are so many of us, and we spend so much time cramped together in tight spaces à la the E train. My office has even installed hand sanitizers in every entryway, nook and cranny available. I’m not sure how, or from where they obtained these massive containers of sanitizer, but I’d like to discuss why I will not use them under any circumstances, and why I don’t think you should either.

Generally speaking, hand sanitizers get pretty bad raps. Apparently they kill all bacteria - even the good stuff we need - so many people (this one included) try to stick to handwashing with soap and water. Of course there are those times when a hand sanitizer is necessary (samples at Whole Foods, anyone?), so many of us carry a small tube. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of these tubes are filled with Purell, Germ-X or maybe something totally generic, like those in my office. You can probably expect what’s coming next…the ingredients in these produts are NOT good for us! Most of these products have an alcohol content well above 60%, which is beyond harsh on our skin. Tricoslan is used in many of these products as well, and this ingredient has been proven to increase our resistance to antibiotics and even disrupt the proper functioning of the liver and thyroid. But have no fear. As per usual, there are some much better natural options!

Might as well begin with my absolute favorite of these options - CleanWell. Not only is CleanWell’s packaging the most alluring out of all the available options (thank you, PhilippeBecker for this pleasing design), but I’ve also found CleanWell to be widely accessible, fairly reasonable and inclusive of some great ingredients. Their “secret” ingredient is ingenium, which is a patented blend of essential plant oils that kill 99.9% of germs. In fact, CleanWell is apparently the only all-natural hand sanitizer that meets EPA and FDA standards. And, similar to many natural products available, they have a great story. The founder’s son had an immune system disorder, which brought the family’s attention to the highly toxic ingredients found in "fast" household products. They developed healthier options, and now we can all benefit. Thank you, CleanWell.

Next up is Method. I take away points from Method for not making smaller pocket-sized tubes of their hand sanitizers, but they make up for this impracticality with their accessability, design, price, and - as always - ingredients. While the ingredients are not completely natural (carbomer, guys? really?), Method offers a good starting point for those trying to make the switch to more natural products. I also really like the scents they offer - particularly the green tea + aloe. Their young co-founders (“people against dirty” ) have backgrounds in design and formulaic patenting, which undoubtedly helped their development of such great-looking, non-toxic products.

For those of you that have gone totally organic with your food and lifestyle choices, two great options are EO and Benedetta. EO is made with non-GMO (genetically modified organism) alcohol and jojoba oil. Non-GMO or not, I still think that the alcohol dried out my hands a bit (or maybe that was the dimethicone...). But its sold at a very low price, and in many NY locations, which makes them good in my book. Then there's Benedetta, which is not only organic, but it’s even made with biodynamic grape alcohol and various other botanicals. Unfortunately, Benedetta is currently only carried online and in the "crunchiest" of all natural markets. Don’t get me wrong...I love these markets. But it’d take a small miracle to get many of my friends and family to visit them (more on the organic industry's marketing, organization and design in a later post…).

inally, we have two natural hand sanitizers that are strictly limited to specialty and department stores. All Terrain is targeted at the outdoor sports enthusiast, and is found at various camping outfitters. Although I’ve never tried it, people seem to really like the product and find it to be very moisturizing compared to other hand sanitizers.

Just as natural but on the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Noodle & Boo, which is really only sold in high end department stores like Neimans, and Neiman's chicer New York sister, Bergdorf's. This product, like many natural products, is targeted at pregnant ladies and new mothers. I plan to do a future post on this topic as well, but many families begin using natural skincare when the mother gets pregnant, as they realize that what you put on your body is just as important as what you put in it … Whether they're for new mothers or not, these sanitizers have great ingredients and get positive reviews.

Just as a recap, the great natural hand sanitizer brands are: CleanWell, Method, EO, Benedetta, All Terrain, Noodle & Boo, and (didn’t think they needed the introduction…) Burt’s Bees. Some other good options are by Surya Brasil, Clean George, and the Body Shop. Hand sanitizer ingredients to avoid at all costs are ethyl alcohol and triclosan. Until natural products become the norm (and I truly believe they will soon), stick with the Naturalchemyst's reviews, be a conscious consumer, and BYOP (bring your own products)!

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