5 Myths About Hand Sanitizers BUSTED

Germs are everywhere! They can get onto hands and items we touch during daily activities and make us sick. Cleaning hands at key times with soap and water or hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to those around you.

There are important differences between washing hands with soap and water and using hand sanitizer.

Soap and water work to remove all types of germs from hands, while sanitizer acts by killing certain germs on the skin. Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs in many situations, they should be used in the right situations. Soap and water are actually more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs like norovirus, Cryptosporidium, and Clostridioides difficile, as well as chemicals.

Hand sanitizers aren't a panacea, but they do play an important role in our society's health and wellbeing. With COVID-19 aggravating the masses towards a constant stream of hand sanitizer, it's a good idea to take a step back and look at some of the myths floating around about hand sanitizers.

1. Using Hand Sanitizers Will Create Anti-Body Resistant Germs

Antibiotics are prescribed by doctors at an alarming rate. According to the CDC, in 2014, 266.1 million courses of antibiotics were dispensed to outpatients in U.S. community pharmacies. This equates to more than 5 prescriptions written each year for every 6 people in the United States! What's even worse - 30% of those prescriptions, nearly 68 millions courses of antibiotics, were completely unnecessary.

These are frightening numbers when you consider the multiple studies that come out every year highlighting the growing class of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Antibiotics work entirely different to hand sanitizers though, although they both aim for the control and destruction of specific pathogens. Hand sanitizers kill 99.99% of germs on the surface of your skin and are formulated to work with your skin to avoid dryness. Antibiotics attack germs within the body, fighting the germs on their level instead of obliterating their entire existence. Hand sanitizers cannot create antibiotic resistant germs, especially when those germs are viruses that are unaffected by antibiotics in the first place.

2. The Point Of Sanitizers Is To Kill All The Germs

While hand sanitizers do work effectively to destroy microorganisms on the surface of your skin, their purpose is more specific. As mentioned, germs are everywhere, and the fact of life is that hundreds of millions if not hundreds of billions of germs are covering the world we live on, including us humans. Hand sanitizers aim to kill transient germs, the ones that are strangers to our germ infested worlds.

Many factors can introduce transient germs to a person or surface. Coughing without properly covering your mouth, sneezing, even talking with a friend can lead to a whole room of people falling ill. Transient germs are not normal guests in our lives, so our body's immune system can sometimes struggle to cope. This is where hand sanitizer comes in: after properly washing your hands with soap and water, using a hand sanitizer can kill transient germs up to 99.99%. Other germs that we live peacefully beside are wiped out as well, collateral of a powerful weapon.

Hand sanitizer is sometimes used as a quick way to cleanse your hands after touching a high-traffic surface, but this practice is mistaken. Chronic hand sanitizer use can lead the emollients in the mixture to layer on the skin, creating a warm habitat for germs to thrive. For hand sanitizer to work effectively, it must come in contact with the skin, not a layer of fats that effectively block it out while the sanitizer evaporates.

3. You Can Have A Resistance To Germs After Chronic Sanitizer Use

Millions of people used hand sanitizer on a daily basis at their work, school, or out on their errands. When COVID came along, so did the population's rush to secure hand sanitizers.

While it may seem logical to think that using hand sanitizer on your skin for a long period of time will afford a natural resistance, the fact is that hand sanitizers cannot give a person natural resistance.

Hand sanitizers use a chemical to remove the majority of germs on a surface, however the active ingredients have a tendency to evaporate quickly. There is also no residue left over from most single applications of hand sanitizer, which leaves nothing for the body to do to create a natural resistance. As always, proper handwashing and then sanitizing is the procedure to develop your protection from germs.

4. OTC Hand Sanitizers Contain Triclosan

Triclosan is an anti fungal, antibacterial agent added to many consumer products intended to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It is added to some antibacterial soaps and body washes, toothpastes, and some cosmetics—products regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It also can be found in clothing, kitchenware, furniture, and toys—products not regulated by the FDA.

In 2019, a regulation was finalized by the FDA which determined that 28 active ingredients, including triclosan and benzethonium chloride, are not eligible for evaluation under the FDA’s OTC Drug Review for use in consumer antiseptic rubs. The federal agency says they need more data on three other active ingredients, including ethyl alcohol, which is the most commonly used ingredient in OTC hand sanitizers, to help the agency ensure that these products are safe and effective for regular use by consumers.

There are other ongoing studies that involve the safety of triclosan. One is an animal study investigating the potential of developing skin cancer after a long-term exposure to triclosan. Another is a study on the potential breakdown of triclosan to other chemicals on human skin after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Short-term animal studies have shown that exposure to high doses of triclosan is associated with a decrease in the levels of some thyroid hormones. Other studies have raised the possibility that exposure to triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

5. Hand Sanitizers Will Always Dry Your Skin Out

Hand sanitizers have gotten a bad reputation for destroying hardworking hands in hospitals and elsewhere. Although it seems like a common piece of knowledge, the fact is that hand sanitizers in the modern world have emollients.

These chemicals are added to hand sanitizers to soothe the skin against inflammation and dryness. The truth is that the formulation matters. The active ingredient is important, but the total formulation affects both the antimicrobial efficacy and the comfort of the user. The CDC suggests using hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol or equivalent to ensure proper efficacy, but emollient mixtures can very widely.

Emollients have a tendency to cake on with repeated hand sanitizer use, so don't forget that hand washing will always be the first step to happy and healthy skin. Understand that chronic hand washing, especially under hot water, usually leads to the dryness that people refer to when they blame hand sanitizer. If you notice cracking or painful skin and you've been doing everything you can to scrub your hands at all times, consider washing in cold water at less intervals. There is such a thing as too clean, so pace yourself and take precautions in moderation.

These products contain emollients, which are chemicals that reduce irritation by protecting and soothing the skin. As counterintuitive as it may seem, an alcohol based hand sanitizer is actually less harsh on the skin than soap and water. A study conducted by Brown University researchers found that washing your hands with soap and water leads to skin that may look and feel quite dry.

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