What is hand sanitizer?
Hand sanitizer, which is in the form of gel or liquid, is used to disinfect your hands from infectious agents when you do not have access to soap. In the face of the pandemic, hand sanitizer sales began to skyrocket as everyone started to stock up on it. In the United States of America, by the end of February 2020, the sales shot up by a whopping 73%.
What is in the hand sanitizer which kills germs?
The major ingredient in hand sanitizer is alcohol. You must have seen shops selling “alcohol-based hand sanitizer” to assure customers that they are effective against COVID-19. Alcohol’s main purpose is to break down the lipid-based coatings of viruses and bacteria, which destroys them. At least 60% of alcohol is present in a bottle of hand sanitizer.
The next ingredient is water. This constitutes about 40% of the sanitizer, and its responsibility is to act as a carrier for all of the ingredients and is required for achieving hydrogel.
A minute portion of the ingredients (Less than 1%) constitutes polyacrylate, bases, colors, fragrances, and emollients.
- The role of polyacrylate is to form a gel with water,
- The base achieves the neutralization of the acidic effects of polyacrylate,
- Emollients guard your skin against the drying effects of alcohol, and last but not least,
- Fragrances and colors provide you with a pleasant smell and appearance.
Here are some things to keep in mind while using hand sanitizers.
1. Remember: Hand sanitizers are for killing infectious agents, but they do NOT clean your hands.
The combination of water and soap is superior when killing infectious germs as compared to your hand sanitizer. When you rub and scrub the soap between your fingers and palms, friction is created, which causes the structure of the infectious bacteria to break down, and thus, the germs are loosened from your skin.
Alcohol-based sanitizers, on the other hand, kill MOST of the harmful germs on the skin. Certain bacteria and viruses cause diarrhea, like norovirus, cryptosporidium, and clostridium difficile, which are resistant to the alcohol-based sanitizers as announced by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention). However, scientists have announced that alcohol-based sanitizers are effective against the coronavirus. Also, please bear in mind that sanitizer cannot work very well if your hands are dirty or oily, and they are not meant for removing chemicals like pesticides or even heavy metals such as lead.
2. Sanitizers reign supreme in certain scenarios.
You must always have hand sanitizer as your back-up for soap and water. When you do not have access to it, that’s your cue to open your bag and pull out the hand sanitizer.
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommend using hand sanitizers in certain scenarios, such as before and after visiting a loved one or a friend in a hospital or nursing home. This is the sole purpose of the availability of hand sanitizers outside the rooms of patients. Using the sanitizer will reduce your chances of bringing an infectious agent inside a room or coming out with one. It is also advisable to use hand sanitizer while you interact with people who have weak immunity.
3. Are all hand sanitizers equal? No.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest using a hand sanitizer that contains AT LEAST 60% of alcohol, which is the requirement for killing germs. If it is less than 60%, it just reduces germs’ growth, therefore putting you at risk.
When you are shopping for hand sanitizers, you might come across ones that contain benzalkonium chloride as a substitute for alcohol. The CDC has not recommended these products since evidence proves that they are less effective against bacteria and viruses than the ingredient, alcohol.
4. Techniques for sanitization are important.
The way the hand sanitizer is used is important for it to be effective. A small amount is squeezed onto your palm (the amount should be enough to cover both your palms) and distributed all over by rubbing your palms together. You should ensure that it reaches your fingertips because that’s the point of contact with most items.
Rubbing your palms and fingers should continue until your skin is dry. This process takes about 15 to 20 seconds. This step is an important one. A lot of people do not use it for the required amount of time.
5. Products meant for cleaning are not an alternate to hand sanitizer.
Antibacterial cleaning wipes and disinfectant sprays should not be considered as a substitute for hand sanitizer. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explained that it is meant for non-porous surfaces and not for human skin pores.
6. Hand sanitizers have proven to be dangerous.
When ingested, hand sanitizer is considered to be extremely toxic, especially for children. Gastrointestinal problems can arise. Alcohol poisoning in kids is possible, even if they consume only a small amount of hand sanitizer. Seek medical help immediately in such cases.
Another known fact is that alcohol-based hand sanitizers are extremely flammable. Center for Disease Control have warned hospitals, nursing homes & other health care facilities to store hand sanitizers in a place away from possible ignition. You should keep your hand sanitizers away from the kitchen or fireplace. There are strict restrictions on shipping alcohol-based hand sanitizers via the mail due to safety concerns over flammability.
7. Hand sanitizers made at home are mostly ineffective.
Amidst this pandemic, you may have stumbled across articles on how to make your very own hand sanitizer in the comfort of your home. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the regulatory body for hand sanitizers, has advised individuals that it is best to leave the germ-killing gel production to the professionals.
If the hand sanitizers are made incorrectly, they will be ineffective, and there are plenty of reports on skin burns caused by homemade hand sanitizers. The last thing you need during this pandemic is a second-degree burn!
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also made it clear that mixing alcohol-based sanitizer with a bottle of non-alcohol hand sanitizer will not result in a powerful one. It is more likely to result in an ineffective product.