If you’ve ever used a hand sanitizer and afterwards felt like your hands were stickier and dirtier than before, don’t you wonder…Is the sanitizer bad? Is the alcohol drying up in the gel? Have I used too much gel? Am I doing it wrong?
The truth is, most people don’t really know the proper way to use a hand sanitizer. And with flu season already here, knowing the proper way to use hand sanitizer is more important than you think.
Washing your hands with warm soap and water is by far the best way to prevent the spread of flu and virus germs. But really, how many times throughout our busy days do we actually have time to wash our hands? This is when hand sanitizers can be beneficial.
Alcohol-based sanitizers must contain at least 60% alcohol to be effective against germs. Squeeze enough of the product into the palm of your hands to wet them fully. Only a few drops are needed to completely cover your hands. Rub your hands together for about 20 seconds or until they are dry. Make sure when rubbing the sanitizer on your hands that you reach all surfaces of your hands, even between your fingers. The sanitizer is only effective if all the liquid is rubbed into your hands!
If soap and water is not available, and your hands are visibly dirty, you may need to wipe them with a wet wipe or towelette first before applying hand sanitizer.
If you like the idea of using a hand sanitizer for extra protection against germs, but don’t prefer to use alcohol based sanitizers, there are a few homemade recipes using essential oils that you can make. Certain essential oils can be just as effective as alcohol because of their antibacterial properties.
Try this recipe for an effective alcohol-free hand sanitizer:
Fill a small, recycled soap or hand sanitizer bottle with 2/3 water. Add one tablespoon of aloe vera gel, and ten total drops of cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, lavender lavender, thyme, rosemary and/or lemon essential oils. Fill the top of the bottle with water, and shake to mix. Spray sanitizer onto hands and rub in for ten seconds.
Because my family and I spend a lot of time in the car driving to work, going sports games and running errands, I like to keep a spray bottle mixture of castile soap and water and some wash cloths. A big fan of Thieves products, I also keep their hand sanitizer in my bag as well.
When shopping around for hand sanitizers, keep in mind the following helpful tips:
- Alcohol-based sanitizers should contain 60% alcohol. Only a few drops are needed to cover and sanitize hands.
- Sometimes hand sanitizers can sting if you have cuts or scrapes.
- If you prefer natural ingredients look for witch hazel and essential oils.
- Hand sanitizers and gels are only effective in sanitizing hands, not cleaning dirt off hands.
- Moisturize hands often when using alcohol-based sanitizers and gels.
- If you smoke, avoid lighting a cigarette after applying hand sanitizer because the alcohol content is flammable.
Finally, proper handwashing is the best way to remove dirt and germs from your hands. Hand sanitizers can remove flu and virus germs but are not 100% effective. Hand sanitizers should only be used as a supplement to hand washing.
Harmful Hand Sanitizer Ingredients
While we want to keep our hands clean, we don’t necessarily need antibacterial hand sanitizer or hand soap. Many products that are labeled “antibacterial” contain chemicals that are detrimental to our health.
Triclosan, a commonly used agent, is an endocrine disruptor that interferes with the proper functioning of vital hormones like thyroid hormones. It is linked to detrimental effects on the nervous system, and is linked to allergies and asthma. Beyond its direct effect on your health, it may also contribute to antibiotic resistance.
Triclosan can be absorbed through the skin and has been found in the urine of 75 percent of Americans sampled. But for all of that risk, there’s not even sufficient evidence showing that it is effective. The FDA is working to review the research on triclosan and has concluded that it is no more effective than regular soap and water at removing bacteria and provides no additional benefits. However, it may take time to remove this ingredient from products on the market, so check labels to make sure you’re not exposing yourself to it.
Beware of Fragrance
Many hand sanitizers also list “fragrance” as an ingredient. This term can mask a long list of potentially harmful chemicals, including phthalates. Phthalates are also endocrine-disruptors and affect the activity of estrogen and androgens in our body. Even at low concentrations, phthalates are associated with detrimental effects on the development of the male reproductive system as well as increased risk of breast cancer.
How to Safely and Effectively Keep Your Hands Clean
Washing your hands often with warm soap and water is your best bet when it comes to keeping your hands clean and minimizing your exposure to harmful bacteria and viruses. Most of us do not wash our hands long enough: You should scrub continuously for 20 to 30 seconds with warm water and dry your hands afterwards.
Use hand sanitizer only when you have no option to wash your hands with soap and water. Remember that it will not work when your hands are visibly dirty. To use correctly, apply the amount directed on the bottle, and be sure to rub your hands vigorously until it dries completely.
Don’t sweat it if your hands aren’t completely clean all of the time. Some researchers believe that the human immune system needs to be exposed to bacteria to develop properly. There is even some speculation that the rising incidence of autoimmune and allergic diseases in certain populations are associated with widespread use of antibiotics and sanitization practices.
Safer Hand Sanitizer Options
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are useful to have on hand for those rare times you need it, but be sure to reduce your risk of hand sanitizer dangers by reading labels carefully. Safer versions contain only a few, safe ingredients. Try Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lavender Hand Sanitizing Spray, which is organic and contains only ethanol, water, glycerin, and lavender oil. Avoid synthetic fragrance, triclosan, and other harmful hand sanitizer ingredients.