The Risks of Hydroalcoholic Gel in Children

Although the use of hydroalcoholic gel is effective and easy to use in children, its misuse can trigger unfavorable conditions. Learn more.
The Risks of Hydroalcoholic Gel in Children
Maria del Carmen Hernandez

Written and verified by the dermatologist Maria del Carmen Hernandez.

Last update: 01 April, 2023

In recent years, the use of hydroalcoholic gel in children has increased considerably. However, its misuse or overuse can cause unwanted complications that are easily preventable. Below, we’ll tell you about the risks of using hydroalcoholic gel in children and how it can be avoided with simple precautions.

What is hydroalcoholic gel?

Hydroalcoholic gel is a preparation that contains alcohol and is marketed in different types of presentation, such as foam, gel, or liquid. They’re created for use on the hands to inactivate microorganisms and/or temporarily eliminate their proliferation. In addition, they may contain one or more varieties of alcohol (ethanol, isopropanol, n-propanol), along with other active ingredients with humectants and excipients.

The efficacy of alcohol gels depends on the type, technique used, the amount applied, and consistency of use. However, there are situations in which its use isn’t ideal, such as when the hands are dirty or the bacterial load is too high.

The characteristics of children’s skin

Children’s skin is characterized by being smoother and softer than that of adults. It’s also much thinner and has less hair. Therefore, it’s more permeable and fragile to any product used. Moreover, as the skin surface is thinner, there’s greater water and heat loss compared to adult skin.

At the same time, children’s skin is also less acidic. This means that it has a lower concentration of fatty acids and lactic acid to make it resistant to infectious and parasitic agents.

A father disinfecting his young on's hands.
The differences between children’s skin and that of adults make it more susceptible to the development of irritations or inflammation.

Know what the risks of hydroalcoholic gel in children are

Although hydroalcoholic gel is considered safer than detergents, there are cases in which they cause severe allergic reactions. For example, anaphylaxis to aliphatic alcohols.

Skin lesions

Despite the addition of moisturizers and emollients in these preparations, alcohol gels can cause significant skin reactions. In fact, irritant contact dermatitis is the most frequent manifestation, ranging from mild to severe. The most common signs and symptoms in children include the following:

  • Itching
  • Cracking of the skin
  • Irritation
  • Dry skin

There have also been documented cases of contact urticaria syndrome related to the use of alcohol-based disinfectants. This syndrome presents swelling, burning sensation, erythema, tingling, or itching after the application of alcohol.

These adverse effects can be easily prevented by identifying the triggering agent and counteracting it with the correct measures. For example, moisturize the skin after application, choose products with less irritating agents, or avoid habits that cause or aggravate skin irritation.


One of the great concerns of parents is the unwanted ingestion of alcohol gel by children. This can cause alcohol poisoning, loss of consciousness, seizures, and hypoglycemia. For this reason, it’s important to keep the product away from children and even choose to use containers with safety closures.

There’s also an association between the use of this type of disinfectant and a small risk of burns. That is, alcohol vapor can easily ignite, so care should be taken to use it away from fire.

It’s always important to keep the hydroalcoholic gel out of the reach of children and to have an adult provide it when necessary.

Eye injuries

Eye injuries due to the use of alcohol disinfectants aren’t one of the most frequent complications to be observed. However, if this should happen, the first thing to do is to rinse the eye with water or physiological solution and then seek medical advice. In addition, it’s advisable to avoid sanitizing gel in containers with odors or bright colors, so that children aren’t attracted to play with them. Even more care should be taken with those that come in the form of a spray.

The choice of hydroalcoholic gel in children

The use of hydroalcoholic gel in children is accessible and efficient and its use requires little time. However, the necessary precautions should be taken to avoid complications. Its use should always be preferred in cases where there’s no quick and easy access to soap and water hygiene. In addition, it’s important to choose a sanitizer with the correct amount of alcohol and practice the proper technique of use.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Greenaway RE, Ormandy K, Fellows C, Hollowood T. Impact of hand sanitizer format (gel/foam/liquid) and dose amount on its sensory properties and acceptability for improving hand hygiene compliance. J Hosp Infect. 2018 Oct;100(2):195-201. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2018.07.011. Epub 2018 Sep 17. PMID: 30012375.
  • Ophaswongse S, Maibach HI. Alcohol dermatitis: allergic contact dermatitis and contact urticaria syndrome. A review. Contact Dermatitis. 1994 Jan;30(1):1-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0536.1994.tb00719.x. PMID: 8156755.
  • Santos C, Kieszak S, Wang A, Law R, Schier J, Wolkin A. Reported Adverse Health Effects in Children from Ingestion of Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers – United States, 2011-2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017 Mar 3;66(8):223-226. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6608a5. PMID: 28253227; PMCID: PMC5657893.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.