The Dirt on Hand Sanitizer:
3 key takeaways for staying cleaner and healthier daily
By: Christopher Falzon
Nearly every store, gym, and office building I walk in to has a hand sanitizer dispenser in it with a label reading something along the lines of “Kills 99.9% percent of all germs,” which people like me take for face value. However, this statement is not as squeaky clean as we might naturally think- here is a deeper dive into the world of hand sanitizers from which we can draw a few conclusions to keep us cleaner and healthier on a daily basis.
How does hand sanitizer work?
The basic concept of hand sanitizer is that once hand sanitizer is applied to a surface it removes the layer of oil from your skin. Removing that layer of oil eliminates with it all bacteria that might have been residing there, hence making for a post-application clean surface. Sounds good in theory, right?
So why doesn’t it work?
For starters, hand sanitizers are tested on inorganic surfaces. Inorganic surfaces have much easier variables to control, however the human hand is a very complex surface with many variables that are hard for us to control and predict. Therefore, the stated results are not necessarily reflective of reality. Secondly, even though the surface bacteria are destroyed by hand sanitizer they can grow back, and bacteria lying below the surface can still emerge afterwards. By failing to truly eliminate all the bacteria this could also make the remaining microorganisms more resistant to antibacterial solutions, leading to more serious and prolonged health complications. All of these unknowns make it difficult to truly confirm hand sanitizer’s effectiveness.
Additionally, you may notice that hand sanitizers will sometimes be labeled as “natural” ie no alcohol or myriad of complex chemicals in the solution. Do natural versus non-natural hand sanitizers make a difference? Well they actually do, but not in a way that you might think. In a study done at the University of Maryland researchers found that using hand sanitizers with 60% alcohol led to significantly fewer bacteria colonies post-application compared to natural hand sanitizers containing 0% alcohol. So, if you use hand sanitizer (as a temporary solution) it is best to pick one with 60% alcohol or more.
**Note- even though we normally champion natural ingredients, in this case natural ingredients wouldn’t keep you healthy. Although we hope hand sanitizer would be a last resort solution, if you do use it make sure to use a hand sanitizer that will actually work!
What I can do to keep clean
Here are a three key takeaway points we can apply daily to keep cleaner and healthier:
1) When given the option always pick traditional soap and water over hand sanitizer
2) Wash your hand for at least 20 seconds. The 5 second routine unfortunately doesn’t make a dent on bacteria
3) If you do use hand sanitizer, use it as a supplement between hand washing opportunities, and pick a hand sanitizer that has 60% or more alcohol to really get rid of all surface bacteria