As cities and governments around the world implement measures to control the spread of the coronavirus, public officials and health authorities are also urging people to do their bit by thoroughly and frequently washing our hands, limiting unnecessary travel, practicing social distancing and avoid touching their faces.
The outbreak of coronavirus COVID-19 has also seen customers panic-buying and stockpiling items such as toilet paper, tinned food, rice, pasta, and of course, hand sanitisers.
But are hand sanitisers effective in preventing the spread of germs?
“Yes, but they must be professionally formulated to be effective,” says Dr Mike Thair, a 40-year veteran scientist and managing director and chief formulator at natural beauty company Indochine Natural.
While hand sanitisers are effective in some cases, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out that they do not remove all types of germs and generally don’t work if hands are visibly greasy or dirty.
What about natural hand sanitisers?
Naturally, people in the eco-conscious community want to know whether natural hand sanitisers are effective against coronavirus.
“Everyone is getting on the bandwagon and becoming overnight “Google experts” in hand-sanitiser formulations,” says Dr Thair. “The terms ‘natural’ and ‘eco-friendly’ are tags these overnight “Google experts” like to use.
“But again, it all gets down to proper formulation by a qualified professional. It’s best to buy professionally formulated and reputable brands of hand sanitiser.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the CDC recommend using hand sanitisers containing minimum 60% alcohol as these are the most effective in stopping the spread of germs.
The most common forms of alcohol found in hand sanitisers are ethyl alcohol, ethanol, n-propanol and isopropyl alcohol. Because alcohol can dry out the skin, water or aloe vera gel is usually added to the formula to add moisture.
Some hand sanitiser brands will also add essential oils or synthetic fragrances, as well as glycerin to create a thicker consistency. Others contain preservatives and other harmful ingredients such as triclosan, benzalkonium chloride (an alcohol substitute), triethanolamine, PEGs and phthalates.
One of Australia’s leading eco-friendly stores, Biome, stocks a range of natural hand sanitisers from brands such as Earth Purities and The Girl & The Olive that contain at least 60% alcohol and are free from nasties such as synthetic fragrances, triclosan and even palm oil.
New York Magazine lists PURELL Advanced Hand Sanitizer Naturals with Plant Based Alcohol as the best hand sanitizer for desks and Business Insider‘s ‘Best Budget Hand Sanitizer’ is Equate Hand Sanitizer with Aloe.
Before purchasing natural or commercial hand sanitisers, make sure to read the list of ingredients on the product label. Only purchase hand sanitisers from reputable brands that have solid customer reviews and meet the required minimum of 60% alcohol.
Follow advice of credible health organisations
To counter the false coronavirus information proliferating social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, it’s best to follow the advice and guidelines from credible sources such as WHO and the CDC.
Dr Thair also recommends people refer to resources such as the 262-page WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care.
“This WHO report identifies both ethanol and isopropanol as the main ingredient of hand sanitisers,” says Dr Thair. “Both have scientifically validated ability to deactivate/destroy viruses.”
“Of these two alcohols, ethanol is probably the best option. It has broader efficacy, and smells better than isopropanol. I have a bottle of isopropanol on my desk, and it’s not something I would really want to use on my skin.”
Best way to sanitise hands
“Simple as it may sound, soap and water is the most effective hand sanitiser,” says Dr Thair. “At the end of the day, most important is washing your hands with soap and water, followed by proper drying.”
It’s important to note here that hand sanitisers and other alcohol-based rubs cannot substitute the thorough washing of hands with soap and water as an effective way to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Neither can hand-sanitiser wipes.
“Once your hands are washed and dried, then hand sanitiser may help as an extra step,” says Dr Thair says. “Also, hand sanitiser is useful where washing with soap and water is not an option.”
Follow the WHO guide below to learn how to wash your hands properly. Remember to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
When should you wash your hands? As often as you can. After using the toilet and bathroom. After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing. Before food prep and after food prep. After handling rubbish. Before and after changing baby diapers. Use common sense. If you’ve touched something that has likely been in contact with another human being or you’ve used your hands to wipe your mouth,get into the habit of washing those hands!
And to mitigate further risk and in case paper towels and hand dryers aren’t available or inoperable, get into the routine of carrying your own hand towel and drying your hands on it. The last thing you want to do is dry your freshly washed hands on a communal towel.
To learn more about how clean hands stops the spread of germs and saves lives, visit the WHO website here.
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Feature image by Kelly Sikkema.