Healthy hand sanitizing tips for healthy hands
Updated: Feb 22
New guidelines calling for continued social distancing, frequent hand washing, and wearing face masks in public are undoubtedly effective habits to adopt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands for about 20s, or the time it takes to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice from beginning to end. If you don’t have access to water or soap and require sanitizing or washing your hands, hand sanitizer is a great option. They do not remove physical dirt and hence are not meant to wash your hands physically.
Hand sanitizers typically come in gel, liquid, or foam form. There is no difference in antibacterial efficacy between the three formulations. However, gels take longer to dry than other formulations. Foams have been proposed to provide a good balance between important factors such as skin feel (non-sticky) and controllability (non-spilling/dripping).
Depending on the chemical composition, hand sanitizers can be classified as one of two types: alcohol-based or alcohol-free. Alcohol-based products contain alcohol, usually in ethanol, isopropanol, or n-propanol. Alcohol-free products are generally based on disinfectants like benzalkonium chloride (BAC).
The use of alcohol-based hand rubs (ABHRs) on unsoiled hands is rapidly effective and broad-spectrum antimicrobial on the skin. Alcohols have excellent antimicrobial activity. SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak, is an enveloped virus and easy to kill. ABHRs appear to be more effective than many nonalcoholic products. Alcohol solutions containing 60-95% of alcohol are most effective. Lower concentrations may not work equally well for many types of germs and also may reduce the growth of germs rather than kill them outright. The germicidal activity of alcohol results from its ability to denature proteins. However, the high alcohol concentration is not necessarily better, as less water content in the formulation can hinder the effectiveness of alcohol in denaturing proteins.
Remember, sanitizers do not eliminate all germs. Soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing specific kinds of germs, like Norovirus, Giardia, or the diarrhea-causing bacterium Clostridium difficile.
When should one use Hand Sanitizers?
• If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
• If you visit someone in the hospital, using hand sanitizer before and after your visit can prevent the spread of infections.
How should one use Hand Sanitizers?
• Hands should be dry.
• Place the recommended amount in the palm of one hand. (read the label to learn the correct amount).
• Rub hand sanitizer all over your hands, making sure to get between your fingers and on the back of your hands.
• Do not wipe or rinse off the sanitizer before it is dry. This should take around 20 seconds.
• Supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer to prevent the ingestion of alcohol by accidental swallowing (accidental swallowing can lead to alcohol poisoning).
Gloves also prevent the spread of infections, but they are not a substitute for hand hygiene procedures. If handwashing or sanitizers are not used before or after gloving, germs can reproduce and thrive on the skin. Hands perspire when gloves are worn. The moisture and the warm temperature created under the gloves cause a perfect humid environment for microbial growth. They can be passed onto others via direct contact when the germs are not removed and killed by hand hygiene procedures. Also, wearing gloves while hands are still wet from either washing or applying alcohol increases the risk of skin irritation.
Frequent use of ABHRs can cause dryness and skin irritation. Skin damaged by repeated exposure may be more susceptible to dry seasons and in individuals with dry skin. Emollients (e.g., glycerin) in the products counteract those destructive effects by lubricating the skin.
Keeping your hands clean is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and prevent the spreading of germs to the people around you.