Hand sanitizer pumps, stations and wipes are everywhere: grocery stores, malls, schools, churches and yes, doctors' offices. Keeping our hands clean helps prevent the spread of disease, but are hand sanitizers a good substitute for washing hands with good old soap and water? Read on to learn why relying on hand sanitizers to keep hands clean may not be your best strategy.
Hand Sanitizer Doesn't Work as Well as Soap and Water
We all know handwashing is important. It's the best way to avoid getting sick. But does hand sanitizer do just as good of a job as lathering up?
Turns out, the soap industry doesn't have anything to worry about: washing your hands the traditional way is far superior to using hand sanitizer. Soap lifts dirt, germs and oil off grimy hands to give you a better, overall cleansing. And unlike hand sanitizer, it can also eliminate pesticides and other chemical residues that are lingering on your hands.
Daily Hand Sanitizer Use May Be Harmful
Last summer the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced concerns over the use of hand sanitizers. People are using hand sanitizer on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day, so the FDA has decided that the companies making hand sanitizers need to provide proof that those chemicals are safe for that level of exposure, especially for pregnant women and children.
Additionally, there are concerns that using antibacterial hand sanitizers and soaps – like those that include bacteria-killing chemicals like triclosan – can contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Hand Sanitizer Offers a Short-Term Solution
If you don't have access to soap and water, hand sanitizer is a good temporary stand-in. Make sure you use one that has at least 60 percent alcohol. While it won't make grubby hands feel fresh, a hand sanitizer with a high level of alcohol can effectively kill bacteria and viruses. Alcohol-free sanitizers may not work as well and the chemicals they use could irritate your skin even more than their alcohol-containing counterparts.
The Bottom Line: Simple Measures Work Best
If you wash your hands often with regular soap and water, use hand sanitizers sparingly, and get a flu shot, you might not need to stock up on tissue this cold and flu season. Have friends that swear by hand sanitizer? Share this story with them on social media.