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Hand Sanitizer VS Hand Washing

Infectious diseases are the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States according to the CDC which has many people running to purchase anything that will kill off scary bacteria. [1]

You see hand sanitizers everywhere. Most schools now list them as a requirement for school supplies. They have convenient small travel sizes, fun holiday scents, some that are moisturizes, and don’t forgot those cute rubber holders that hook onto the diaper bag or purse.

Manufactures state that these products kill 99.9% of germs. So one would assume that when they are used on the hands they are killing 99.9% of germs-but this is extremely misleading and recent research suggests that this is not the case.

Tests for Efficacy 

Did you know when the tests are performed to prove efficacy of 99.9%, these products are tested on inanimate surfaces, not human skin or hands. Human skin and hands are definitely not anywhere near an inanimate surface. Sebum is the oil secreted by the pores that forms a protective layer for the skin. Hand sanitizers strip away the sebum oil on the skin to kill the bacteria that resides there.

Research from Purdue University states that “hand sanitizers do not significantly reduce the number of bacteria on the hand and in some cases may potentially increase the amount.” [2]

Washing your hands uses more friction then hand sanitizers. The friction used has the ability to dislodge a virus and send it spiraling in to the sink where it can be removed. Superficially rubbing your hands to together with a sanitizer can spread the virus if the sanitizer doesn’t kill it. Not to mention, you just end up with a bunch of dead viruses and bacteria on your hands on all.

There is no doubt that hand sanitizers, acting in conjunction with hand washing, are a benefit. But the false security many place in these products alone has the potential to be dangerous.

Squirt, Rub, Done.

I’m not denying that I have used hand sanitizers when soap and water were not available (such as at the gas station, ew). With researching a bit more on the topic though, I found out that I had been using them improperly this whole time.

To maximize effectiveness with sanitizers, you must make sure you are using them correctly. First make sure it contains at least 60% alcohol (not all sanitizers are up to this requirement). On a side note, definitely avoid sanitizers that contain Triclosan since this chemical has been documented in disrupting hormonal balance and has been linked to allergies, asthma and eczema.[3] Then use a dime size amount and rub the hands for 30 seconds. According to the CDC, if your hands are dry within 15 seconds, you haven’t used enough.

After I read this, I started to be more mindful of how I was using these sanitizers. I actually counted the 30 seconds and if you’ve never done this before – it is a lot longer then I expected to be rubbing my hands together. I doubt I had ever used a hand sanitizer correctly before that time.

There’s Good Bacteria on My Hands, Say What?

The goal of hand sanitizers are to, not remove, but kill bacteria on your hands. There is a dilemma in this practice because sanitizers are not selective when it comes to good and bad bacteria. There are some bacteria that we definitely do not want on our bodies, but there are some that actually protect our immune system. We definitely do not want to kill that bacteria.

More importantly, there is considerable evidence out there that some exposure to bacteria in our environment is actually beneficial in the development of our immune system. There are studies now demonstrating the effects of sterile environments on allergies and asthma.[4][5]

I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t wash their hands but using alcohol and other harsh chemicals to kill agents on the surface of the skin a few times a day, is safe to say, probably not helping a child’s immune system.

Bottom line? If you’re worried about germs, then wash your hands.


[1]Fauci, Anthony, Nancy Touchette and Gregory Folkers. Emerging Infectious Diseases: a 10-Year Perspective from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Vol. 11, No 4, Apr 2005.

[2] Hand Sanitizers Bo Substitute For Soap. Science Daily. Feb 18, 2000.

[3] Epstein, Samuel.The Dangers of Triclosan: A Common Anti-Bacterial Ingredient. Huffington Post. Mar 24 2010

[4] Anderson, Aoife. Sterile environments 'causing' allergies. Jul 4 2006

[5] Delespesse, Guy.Why are allergies increasing?.Health and Medicine. Apr 13 2010

1 comment:

  1. hi very nice information and very nice blog.I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t wash their hands but using alcohol and other harsh chemicals to kill agents on the surface of the skin a few times a day, is safe to say, probably not helping a child’s immune system.

    hand sanitizers


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