We have been using alcohol-based hand sanitizers for a long time. It only became more popular in this Covid-19 pandemic. We all carry some on us everywhere we go. And we are even more likely to have bigger bottles of it at home. Some have shared video on how to make your own alcohol-based hand sanitizer on social media platforms. However, what makes a good hand sanitizer? Why does alcohol-based sanitizers work effectively against the coronavirus? Is it totally safe to use them? What are some of the precautions we need to be aware of?

What makes a good hand sanitizer?

With Coronaviruses, a good hand sanitizer should be alcohol-based. It is recommended to only buy one with at least 60% alcohol. Keep in mind that the higher the alcohol the more effective it will be against the virus. Some hand sanitizers on the market today have about 70%-95% alcohol. It is equally important too that your sanitizer is friendly to your hands. Some manufacturers add glycerin (or aloe vera gel) and some good scented oil. While glycerin (or aloe vera gel) sooths your hands and keeps them soft and tender, the scented oils take away the rather offensive smell of the alcohol. So, the next time you go on the market to buy a sanitizer be on the lookout for these.

Why alcohol-based?

Coronaviruses (including Covid-19) are enclosed in a membrane and have protective outer proteins. In order to destroy what is inside, which is the disease-causing organism itself, these protections must be compromised. Washing your hands with soap is the most effective way to destroy microbes by removing their protection. Alcohol is also known to denature this protection and killing the virus.

Are alcohol-based hand sanitizers safe?

The human skin has beneficial microorganisms that are naturally present on the skin. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not pose any risk of eliminating these. This is because, the body quickly replenishes the beneficial microbes on the hand.

However, alcohol could (in a higher proportion especially) remove the outer layer of the skin’s natural oil. When that happens, the barrier function of the skin could be affected. This could result in loss of skin lipids.

Only turn to alcohol-based hand sanitizers when washing of hands is not possible. As most of us spend the most part of our lives outside home and possibly away from the ideal situation where soap and water are available, you could also make it a practice to wash your hands as soon as it becomes possible to do so.

Most hand sanitizers are marketed to kill 99.9% of germs. That is a great figure, if that were totally true. Scientists from the University of Georgia estimate that there are about five million trillion trillion bacteria on planet earth. That is 5 with 30 zeros after it. I know not all bacteria are disease-causing. But just work out 0.1% of that figure and you will see there are billions of germs that cannot be killed by sanitizers, even if their claim of 99.9% were totally true. This is why handwashing is the priority.

Precautions when using alcohol-based hand sanitizers

On the World Health Organization (WHO) website, the following precautions were highlighted with the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

  • Keep them out of reach of children. Teach them how to use it and monitor its use.
  • Apply a coin-sized amount on your hands. There is no need to use a large amount of it.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose immediately after using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, as it can cause irritation.
  • Hand sanitizers recommended to protect against Covid-19 are alcohol-based and can be flammable. Do not use before handling fire or cooking.
  • Under no circumstance, drink or let children drink had sanitizer. It can be poisonous.
  • Remember that washing your hands with soap and water (running) is also effective against Covid-19.