Side Effects of Antibacterial Gel on the Skin

Some people use antibacterial gel without taking into account that the product can cause side effects. Why isn't it good to apply it in excess? Here we'll explain in detail.
Side Effects of Antibacterial Gel on the Skin

Written by Daniela Castro

Last update: 19 April, 2023

Something that many are unaware of is that antibacterial gel can cause side effects on the skin. Although at first it may seem illogical due to its benefits, it has been determined that its excessive use causes irritation, dryness, sensitivity, among other skin reactions.

In fact, entities such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have expressed concern about the growing and excessive use of this product. They recently published an update with the varieties that should be avoided. Are you interested in knowing more about it?

What is antibacterial gel and what is its composition?

Antibacterial gel is a product that has become popular for its ability to disinfect hands when it is not possible to wash them with soap and water. Due to its texture, it’s easy to apply and doesn’t require rinsing. In addition, it has properties that eliminate any germs present on the hands.

Although there are various combinations of ingredients, in general, we can say that there are two categories: with and without alcohol. Alcohol formulas are used regularly in healthcare settings, as they’re inexpensive and have a good level of efficacy in reducing the risk of infections.

The composition of these gels usually includes ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, n-propanol or a combination of these and water. In turn, they contain humectants and excipients. In any case, the most recommended are those that have between 60% and 95% alcohol.

Meanwhile, the alcohol-free form often contains benzalkonium chloride and sometimes triclosan. However, the latter has been discontinued due to the adverse effects that have been demonstrated.

What is antibacterial gel and what is its composition?
Excessive use of antibacterial gel is associated with negative effects on skin health.

What are the side effects of antibacterial skin gel?

The application of antibacterial gel on the hands is useful to prevent the spread of infections when it’s not possible to wash with soap and water. Despite this, its excessive application brings with it considerable side effects. Due to its composition, it’s associated with various skin reactions. Let’s see in detail.

1. Causes skin irritation

Alcohol and other harsh ingredients used in the manufacture of hand sanitizer can cause skin sensitivity and irritation. As an article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health exposes, these substances alter the natural flora of the skin and tend to dry it out. Consequently, it causes peeling and itching.

2. Increases photosensitivity

Constant application of this product may increase sensitivity to burns and damage caused by the sun’s UV rays (photodamage). The reason? The alcohol it contains dries out the skin and weakens its layers. In this way, the rays penetrate the skin more easily.

3. It can cause allergic reactions

One of the side effects of antibacterial gel is associated with triclosan. This substance is an antimicrobial that’s used in the manufacture of disinfectant soaps, mouthwash, toothpaste, among other products. However, there’s evidence that points to its risks for health in general.

Being easily absorbed through the skin and oral mucosa, this substance can cause allergic reactions. In fact, it’s related to hormonal imbalances and immune system problems. As a result of this, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibited its use in certain products.

4. In the long term, the risk of infections increases

Although it’s paradoxical, using too much antibacterial gel can, in the long term, increase susceptibility to infections. As? The constant use of disinfectant increases the resistance of bacteria and other germs that inhabit the hands. Therefore, over time, the product becomes ineffective.

In the long term, the excessive use of antibacterial gel can increase the resistance of microorganisms. Consequently, the risk of infections increases.

5. Doesn’t clean residue from hands

The fact that the antibacterial gel doesn’t completely clean the residues from the hands can lead to other side effects on the skin. For example, by not removing fat and dirt particles, problems can be generated in other areas of the skin, when touching the face for example.

Washing your hands is the best option

For all of the above reasons, antibacterial gel shouldn’t replace regular hand washing with soap and water. It should be reserved only for those specific cases when it’s impossible to go to the sink. In this regard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest the following:

  • Moisten your hands with lukewarm or cold water, turn off the tap, and lather.
  • Then, rub the soap in until it foams. In turn, soap the back of the hands, between the fingers, and under the nails.
  • Scrub hands for 20 seconds and rinse.
  • Finally, dry with a clean towel or air dry.

Finally, if you choose a gel because circumstances warrant it, it’s best to choose those whose alcohol composition is greater than 60%. In other formats, they’re considered ineffective against microorganisms. Keep that in mind!

  • Yueh MF, Tukey RH. Triclosan: A Widespread Environmental Toxicant with Many Biological Effects. Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2016;56:251-272. doi:10.1146/annurev-pharmtox-010715-103417
  • WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care: First Global Patient Safety Challenge Clean Care Is Safer Care. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. 14, Skin reactions related to hand hygiene. Available from:
  • Jing JLJ, Pei Yi T, Bose RJC, McCarthy JR, Tharmalingam N, Madheswaran T. Hand Sanitizers: A Review on Formulation Aspects, Adverse Effects, and Regulations. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(9):3326. Published 2020 May 11. doi:10.3390/ijerph17093326
  • Bertelsen RJ, Longnecker MP, Løvik M, et al. Triclosan exposure and allergic sensitization in Norwegian children. Allergy. 2013;68(1):84-91. doi:10.1111/all.12058
  • Gold NA, Mirza TM, Avva U. Alcohol Sanitizer. [Updated 2020 Jun 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from:

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