Harmful or Helpful?

Here’s How Hand Sanitizers Gel with Your Microbiome

While we have all been feeling some sense of loneliness and isolation, a select few might find comfort in the fact that we’re never completely alone—our skin is always host to a massive array of microorganisms, both inside and out.

Microbiome Hand Sanitizers

Newborns have very few skin bacteria, but as they grow older and are exposed to different environments, they collect more bacteria and develop their characteristic microbiome. Human skin microbiota has been described as a “microbial fingerprint” due to its unique patterns in individuals.

Touch Bacteria Hand Sanitizer Microbiome

The human microbiome has been studied extensively for many years, most notably by the Human Genome Project, funded by the National Institutes of Health and other organizations.

The Human Genome Project was an international scientific research project with the goal of determining the base pairs that make up human DNA, and identifying and mapping all of the genes of the human genome from both a physical and a functional standpoint. It remains the world’s largest collaborative biological project.

Healthy skin microbiota can be classified into two groups:

  • (i) Resident microorganisms, which are a relatively fixed group of microorganisms (the core microbiota) that are routinely found in the skin and that re‐establish themselves after being disturbed. Core skin microbiota are considered to be commensal, meaning that these microorganisms are usually harmless and most probably provide some benefit to the host.

  • (ii) Transient microorganisms (the ‘tourists’) do not establish permanent residency, but rather arise from the environment and persist for hours to days before disappearing. Under normal conditions both groups are not disease-causing.

Hand Sanitizer Safe for Microbiome Healthy Bacteria
Do Hand Sanitizers Damage Good Bacteria?

You can change into clean clothes every day, but your skin is that permanent physical barrier that prevents the invasion of disease-causing bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

The harsh dry physical landscape of skin, particularly the nutrient-poor, acidic environment, is hostile to disease-causing bacteria. The skin barrier is designed to be impermeable, meaning it keeps water in and bacteria and microorganisms out.

Daily life actions, such as touching, eating, and breathing, shape the human microbiome from its inception and can alter its composition throughout all life stages of an individual.

Although people have been manipulating the skin microbiome, often beneficially, by washing and using cosmetics and topical antiseptics, recent research showed that the healthy human skin microbiome is stable over time despite external exposures.

Good news for all of us that use hand sanitizers:

Sanmiguel and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania published a study in 2017, showing that, unlike topical antibiotics, hand sanitizers did not cause long-lasting changes in skin microbiota. Topical antiseptics like hand sanitizers caused only minor changes in skin bacterial populations, with few changes to the underlying microbiota.

University of Pennsylvania Study Hand Sanitizer Microbiome Harmful

An Inside Look at the Microbiome, from the President’s Desk and Scientific Team at PlaneAire®

Sharing our insight is a responsibility we take seriously as a company. Our team of creative and scientific professionals regularly investigates, discusses and shares the latest information, and we take pride in following the pulse of health science, and regularly consulting with esteemed medical experts from around the globe.


  • Byrd AL , Y, Segre JA. 2018. The human skin microbiome. Nat Rev Microbiol. 16(3):143-155.
  • Grice EA, Kong HH, Conlan S, Deming CB, Davis J, Young AC, et al. 2009. Topographical and temporal diversity of the human skin microbiome. Science 324: 1190–1192.
  • Moskovicz V, Gross A, Mizrahi B. 2020. Extrinsic Factors Shaping the Skin Microbiome. Microorganisms. 2020 Jul; 8(7): 1023
  • Oh J, Byrd AL, M, NISC Comparative Sequencing Program, Kong HH and JA. 2016. Temporal Stability of the Human Skin Microbiome. Cell.165(4): 854–866.
  • SanMiguel AJ, Meisel JS, Horwinski J, Zheng Q, Grice EA. 2017. Topical antimicrobial treatments can elicit shifts to resident skin bacterial communities and reduce colonization by Staphylococcus aureus competitors. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 61:e00774-17

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