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  5. Hand Sanitizer: How Much Is Too Much?

Can you count the number of times you touch your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands in a day? Your hands are one of the main transmission agents in the times of deadly viruses like Covid-19!

This is why hand hygiene is crucial to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Enough has been said about using hand sanitizers regularly in such times. But, is excess use of sanitizer really good for you? Or, how much is too much?

Consider this as your mini guide for using hand sanitizers the right way.

What Is Hand Sanitizer? How Does Hand Sanitizer Work?

Hand sanitizer [1] is an alcoholic liquid, gel or foam that kills pathogens (disease causing microorganisms) present on your hands.

The main ingredient in a hand sanitizer is alcohol - ethanol [2], isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol), propanol, etc. Alcohols break down the proteins in the pathogen [3], disrupt their cellular metabolism and split the cells into pieces.

How To Use Hand Sanitizer?

  • Apply a quarter size dollop of hand sanitizer to your palms. (You can also read the instructions on the sanitizer bottle to get an estimate of the amount to be used)
  • Rub your hands together for 20 seconds.
  • Let your hands dry fully.

Use hand sanitizers once per hour unless your job requires even more frequent reapplications.

Word of Caution:

Keep hand sanitizers away from infants and children. They can be fatal if consumed orally.

Benefits Of Using Hand Sanitizer

1. It is portable (can be carried in a purse, pocket or can be placed at your desk).

2. Can act on and kill microbes quickly.

3. Takes less time when compared to handwashing.

4. Less irritating on skin than soap and water.

How Do You Make Hand Sanitizer At Home?

The ingredients needed to make home-based hand sanitizers are:

  • 3/4th cup of isopropyl or rubbing alcohol [4]
  • 1/4th cup of aloe vera gel
  • 10 drops of tea tree oil, lavender oil or lemon

Firstly, wash your hands thoroughly before you start. Pour all the ingredients into a clean bowl and mix well with a spoon to get a gel-like or runny consistency. Voila! Your sanitizer is ready to use.

How To Choose The Right Sanitizer?

Choose hand sanitizers with 60-95% alcohol [5]. According to Dr. Zeel Gandhi at SkinKraft, “Alcohol is an effective germicide that works by denaturing the microbial proteins. Insufficient concentrations are thus not effective.” Beware of products that claim to contain alcohol substitutes or alternative disinfectant ingredients.

Disadvantages Of Hand Sanitizer

1. Hand sanitizers can not get rid of all the dirt on your hands unlike soap.

2. They are also ineffective against germs like norovirus, cryptosporidium and clostridium difficile [6].

3. Hand sanitizers don't work if your hands are way too greasy.

4. Using too much hand sanitizers can dry out your hands. Use a good moisturizer [7] or hand cream to hydrate your hands.

5. Excess hand sanitizer may cause minor skin irritation due to the alcohol content.

Note:

Hand sanitizer can not replace your handwashing practise. Remember to use them only when soap and water are not accessible.

For How Long Is Hand Sanitizer Effective?

Hand sanitizers containing at least 70% alcohol (mainly ethyl alcohol) kill 99.9% of the bacteria 30 seconds after application and 99.99% to 99.999% in one minute. The effect starts in as early as 10 seconds. Dr. Kaustav Guha, lead scientist at SkinKraft laboratories, explains, “70 % alcohol evaporates in the optimal time and kills the microbes. Higher doses evaporate faster, while lower doses evaporate slower, but are also less effective in killing microbes.”

Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?

Hand sanitizers usually expire after 3 years from the date of manufacturing. The alcohol in the sanitizer evaporates and the concentration becomes less than 60%, making it ineffective at killing germs.

Is Hand Sanitizer Better Than Soap?

Pathogens like viruses contain a layer of lipids (fat molecules) [8] which helps in attaching to surfaces or body parts. This lipid layer can be washed away when you wash your hands with soap and water.

While handwashing is the best way to kill and wash off the germs down the drain, in instances where soap and water are unavailable, hand sanitizers are your best bet.

What Can I Use Instead Of Hand Sanitizer?

While hand washing and sanitizing with alcohol are preferred ways to get rid of germs on your hands, there are other ingredients that may come handy. Plain vinegar and tea tree oil are also anti-microbial. You can also make a sanitizer with aloe vera gel, witch hazel and a few drops of essential oil.

Tips To Prevent Coronavirus

  • Follow frequent handwashing for at least 20 seconds. Always carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you.
  • Stay home - Don’t leave your house unless it is to shop for groceries or medical emergencies.
  • While you are outside, practice social distancing. Keep a minimum of 3 feet distance from others.
  • Wear a face mask when you need to step out of the house. You can use homemade cloth masks too.
  • Refrain from touching your face as there is a high chance of transmitting the virus.
  • Always clean door-delivered items, vegetables, fruits and surfaces with a disinfectant to get rid of germs.

Wrapping Up

Hand sanitizers are your saviours on-the-go and prevent the spread of many pathogens. The alcohol in a hand sanitizer breaks down the cells and cell metabolism in bacteria and viruses. However, sanitizers cannot be considered as frontline defence. Do make sure you wash your hands with soap and water once you reach your safe place. Stay home and stay safe!

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