Please Don’t Disinfect Your Skin

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

You don’t need to sanitise your groceries, you definitely shouldn’t wash your produce in disinfectants, and I really hope you’re taking our advice to not inject bleach. It’s time to add one more thing to the list of Things I Didn’t Think I’d Have to Say: Please do not use cleaning products on your skin or any other part of your body.

Look, disinfectants — things like Lysol and bleach — have labels telling you how to use them. Since they’re regulated along with pesticides, there’s actually a bit of science behind these instructions. If you are looking specifically to protect yourself from the coronavirus, there’s a list of specific products that are appropriate to do so. These are, generally, surface cleaners. They’re meant to be used on tables, floors, doorknobs, and such.

Now that we’ve established that there are appropriate products to choose, and appropriate ways to use them, it’s time to have a little talk about what some of you are doing and shouldn’t do. Please do not put disinfectants on your body. Don’t spray your hands with Lysol. Don’t gargle with bleach.

A study in April showed an increase in calls to poison control centres for cleaning product incidents. More recently, the CDC surveyed Americans about how they use cleaning products, using a sample of 500 people designed to be representative of the U.S. population. They found that a lot of us don’t know the basics of cleaning product safety — never mixing bleach and vinegar, for example.

More worryingly: 39% of Americans said they had done something in the past month that was on a list of unsafe practices, like cleaning fruits and vegetables with bleach, applying disinfectant to the skin, gargling with disinfectants or soapy water, or inhaling fumes from cleaning products. And 25% reported health-related “adverse events” like irritated skin or eyes resulting from a cleaning product. (This question was separate from the unsafe practices, but people who admitted to one of the unsafe practices were far more likely to also say yes to the question about being hurt by a cleaning product.)

So, to recap:

  • Always read the instructions
  • Use gloves and eye protection as needed (read the instructions)
  • Don’t mix cleaning products
  • Don’t use cleaning products in or on your body
  • Wash your hands after using cleaners or disinfectants
  • Use cleaning products with adequate ventilation (again, read the instructions)

If you want to clean your hands, please just use soap and water. Thank you.

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