Do You Know That Hand Sanitizers Aren’t that Effective?


Hand sanitizers are really common these days. Everyone can be seen sporting one of those transparent bottles while in the subway, in a restaurant or in the library. The center of discussion being, everyone is using them these days and that too very often. But has it ever occurred to you that these substances can have a reverse effect or no effect to certain microorganisms whatsoever. Has it ever occurred to you that prolonged usage may have any adverse effects as well? Well, worry no more as we will discuss the aforementioned idea further in the article.

Are Hand Sanitizers Really Effective?

hand sanitizer

The question arises that whether we should promote the use of hand sanitizers or whether we should stop it altogether? The majority of hand sanitizers in the marketplace use ingredients like alcohol that can go up to 70 percent or even higher. Such a high concentration of alcohol results in the killing of microorganism on the surface of the skin. When hand sanitizers are left on the surface of the skin for over thirty seconds, it leads to a chemical reaction that ends up killing 99.99 percent of bacteria and also certain types of viruses like the influenza A virus. What actually happens is that the hand sanitizer opens up the cell membranes of these bacteria and envelopes, in the case of viruses, ultimately killing them off. 

hand sanitizer

Other hand sanitizers which are not predominantly alcoholic use other means of stopping bacterial action. It means that they are bacteriostatic, which means that they stop bacteria from reproducing. That’ll do for sure. Contents of these hand sanitizers usually consist of antibacterial agents like triclosan, benzalkonium, and chlorohexidine. But in situations where there is visible dirt and grime, you definitely would need soap and water as the hand sanitizer would just simply spread the whole concoction around, thus, making soap and water absolutely necessary and increases the side effect of hand sanitizers . But what happens in the absence of visible dirt? Who wins? Soap and water or the hand sanitizer?

In the year 2009, there was a study carried out in Australia, which pondered upon the same argument and decided to find some decisive answers. Hospital workers were selected and were vaccinated against influenza A. They, were then infected with live influenza A viruses. The sample sizes were divided into five different categories.

hand sanitizer

The first category used just soap and water followed by paper towel drying. The second category used about 61 percent ethanol for over 20 seconds of use. The third category used about 70 percent of ethanol-based hand sanitizers with a combination of 0.5 percent chlorhexidine for over 20 seconds. The fourth category was the one to use about 70 percent of isopropanol based hand sanitizers with a combination of 0.5 percent of chlorhexidine for aver 20 seconds. The final and fifth group was the controlled group with no washing.

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Without any wonder, the controlled category of people had the maximum amount of virus population. However, to the surprise of many, the group with the least virus DNA presence was the one which used only soap and water. This can be explained by the fact that in spite of the killing effect of hand sanitizers, soap, and water, although traditional, actually remove the germs from your hands altogether. Therefore. The results are out and water and soap emerge victoriously.

There are other various questions surrounding this result as well. For instance, does the temperature of the water make a difference? Well, of course, it does. It has been proven that hot water does have the ability to kill bacteria. But this only occurs at 99.98 degree Celsius. Now, you can go ahead and wash your hands in the temperature, but it will burn your skin. That would be indeed foolish. Thus, save your energy and use regular water.

hand sanitizer

Pros and Cons of Hand Sanitizers

But what about antibacterial soap? Do they really kill bacteria as they claim on television commercials? The reality is that anti-bacterial soaps use a substance called ‘triclosan’. Triclosan is an anti-bacterial agent usually used in products like these. So, they must be effective after all, huh? Wrong! It turns out that the amount of triclosan to be actually effective on the bacteria present on the skin is way below than the required amount, which is 1 percent. Therefore, the so-called’ Anti-bacterial’ soaps are no better than regular soaps when it comes to combat bacteria. To add to this disappointment, the triclosan used in products like soap eventually gets dumped in lakes and rivers where they get accumulated and ultimately affect the marine species in the area. Triclosan is also proven to increase the occurrence of a phenomenon called ‘Cross-Resistance’. This is basically the procedure of bacteria becoming resistant to other antibacterial agents as they evolve. This increases the chances of them producing the so-called ‘superbug’, which is practically resistant to any antibiotic. Scary isn’t it?

This is, however, not true in the case of hand sanitizers as they predominantly use alcohol as their primary ingredient.So the main question that arises is- are the hand sanitizers good or bad? At the end of the day, the best way to deal with the bacterial activity of your body is to use soap and water and washing all of it straight away. But then again, hand sanitizers do come handy when we are in situations where getting a soap and some water is not feasible. It is also important that we realize the adverse effects that antibacterial soaps are causing to the environment and ultimately us in particular.


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