The Truth About Hand Sanitizer

Categories: Cleaning for Health, Innovations, Trends & Technology

By Isabelle Faivre | January 17, 2019 << Back to Articles

The war against germs and bacteria is a constant one. While washing with soap and water is the best way to ensure hands are properly freed of germs, it isn’t always a viable option. If soap and water are not available, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.  But a recent study suggests that bacteria may be battling.

Sanitizer Study

Research by Science Translational Medicine suggests several strains of bacteria have begun adjusting to alcohol-based hand sanitizers. The study examined two Australian hospitals over the course of almost a decade and found that overtime, strains of E. faecium developed an improved ability to withstand alcohol-based hand sanitizer. During this same period, hospitals across Australia began installing more hand sanitizer dispensers in rooms and hallways for staff, visitors, and patients to use, and the rate of infections declined.

The researchers used different strengths of alcohol concentrations to combat the bacteria, starting with 23 percent. According to the study, bacteria are becoming more tolerant of it, meaning the bacteria could survive for longer periods of time after being doused with alcohol. However, the level of alcohol concentration is a key factor in a sanitizer’s effectiveness.

To help determine the truth about hand sanitizer, let’s first identify some common myths surrounding them.

All sanitizers can create antibiotic resistance.

While providing sanitizer where soap and water is not available is an essential part of a hand hygiene program, it’s also critical to provide the right sanitizer. Some experts—including those at SC Johnson Professional— recommend an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 70 percent alcohol as the higher percentage will usually translate into higher efficacy. In fact, the Science Translational Medicine study found hand sanitizer with a 70-percent alcohol mixture could defeat the bacteria.  Look for products with a five-log minimum kill rate (99.999 percent)— which are 100 times more effective than three-log (99.9 percent) sanitizers.

All hand sanitizers are the same.

False: When it comes to hand sanitizers, not all options are equal. In fact, sanitizers that contain alcohol and ones that contain other antibacterial actives are very different. Sanitizers with antibacterial active ingredients can contain Triclosan, a chemical recently banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in hand sanitizers and other products intended for use on the skin[1]. Sanitizers that are alcohol-based are evaluated and declared safe to be left on the skin by the FDA.

A quick pump is all you need.

False: As with soap and water, sanitizer won’t work unless it’s used properly. Cover all surfaces of hands and fingers and rub until the hand sanitizer is fully absorbed.

All hand sanitizers are sticky.

False. According to an independent study commissioned by The Deb Group, 84 percent of users prefer foam over gel due to foam being less sticky and faster drying. Additionally, users prefer foam because it doesn’t run off the hands, ensuring the full dose is applied effectively with every application.

All hand sanitizer dries out and irritates the skin.

False. The alcohol in hand sanitizer can often lead to the drying out the skin, therefore, it’s best to use sanitizers that contain additional moisturizers. Additionally, selecting sanitizers that are perfume- and dye-free will help reduce potential allergic reactions and skin irritations.

Hand sanitizers can replace soap and water.

False. Hand sanitizer is useful for when soap and water is not accessible. Although alcohol-based sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands, the CDC still advises washing with soap and water is the most effective tool to remove germs that can causes a variety of illnesses.

Hand sanitizer overuse lessons effectiveness.

False. A study in BMC Infectious Diseases found office workers who were encouraged to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer at least five times each workday were about two-thirds less likely to get sick than those who continued to just wash their hands.  Moreover, it was found that the best way to remind employees to use hand sanitizer is by making it easily accessible and always within sight. It’s important to place hand sanitizer near and around high-touch surfaces and communal, high-traffic areas.

While using soap and warm water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on your hands, this isn’t always an option. This is where hand sanitizer becomes a good weapon against bacteria. To keep the workplace healthy, it’s important to provide the right type of hand sanitizer and ensure that it’s available when water and soap are not. 

About the Author.

Isabelle Faivre is vice president of marketing at Deb Group, an away-from-home skin care company. Visit for more information.