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Does Your Hand Sanitizer Actually Work?

Does Your Hand Sanitizer Actually Work?

Does your hand sanitizer actually protect you from germs? Here are 10 things you should know when looking for a safe and effective hand sanitizer.

Several months ago when the pandemic hit its hardest, many of us were surprised to see such a basic staple such as hand sanitizer reach soaring prices on retailers like Amazon. While price-gauging essentials has been a major problem amidst the pandemic due to supply shortages, the industry has experienced other major problems as well - including efficacy and safety.

We've talked about how brands are taking advantage of relaxed guidelines when it comes to quality and safety, which has led to hundreds of product recalls nationwide for hand sanitizers containing dangerous levels of toxic chemicals such as benzene, methanol and 1-propanol - which are known to be carcinogenic. 

On top of that, some brands are selling hand sanitizers that contain less than the recommended amount of alcohol, instead appealing to customers with pleasant scents or quirky designs. Some brands also use no alcohol at all - instead they use benzalkonium chloride as the active ingredient, which isn't proven to kill germs as effectively as alcohol does. According to the CDC, "Many studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60-95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Hand sanitizers without 60-95% alcohol 1) may not work equally well for many types of germs; and 2) merely reduce the growth of germs rather than kill them outright." Be sure to check the fine print, because sometimes the front of the package doesn't disclose the alcohol-free formula.

Despite these problems and recommendations from the CDC, ineffective and unsafe hand sanitizer continues to fly off the shelves at markets across the U.S.. Perhaps what is most shocking, as pointed out by ProPublica's article, is that the phrase "coronavirus hand sanitizer" searched on returns with results that are filled with alcohol-free formulas - meaning that they're not proven to kill germs, yet are still going for crazy high prices. Talk about a false sense of security!

So in light of all of the confusion surrounding hand sanitizers, we're here to help clear up some facts. See below for what you should know when it comes to keeping those hands clean!

Pictured above: Common Ground's Foaming Hand Wash.

1. The best thing you can do to remove germs from your hands is by washing them - with soap and water.

First and foremost, wash your hands the old-fashioned way if you have access to soap and water. "Soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs, like Cryptosporidium, norovirus, and Clostridium difficile. Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers can inactivate many types of microbes very effectively when used correctly, people may not use a large enough volume of the sanitizers or may wipe it off before it has dried" according to the CDC.

Which brings us here to point #2:

2. When washing your hands with soap and water isn't an option, use hand sanitizer- and use it correctly!

Don't wipe excess gel off on your pants! The way we use hand sanitizer matters, and if we don't give it the proper amount of kill time (the amount of time it takes to effectively kill germs) or use enough of it, it renders most hand sanitizers less effective. Here's a quick demonstration for how to adequately sanitize your hands with Lemyn Organics, which has a 15 second kill time for more than 40 types of illness-causing germs.

3. Look for brands that demonstrate transparency. 

Are things labeled clearly? If you have to turn the package over or search for fine print regarding kill time, active ingredients, cruelty-free or alcohol-free formulas, then you know that the brand probably isn't checking all the boxes. For example, some of the brands that carry products using benzalkonium chloride instead of alcohol-based formulas don't always clearly label that the formula is alcohol-free and are vague regarding which germs the product is effective at killing. 

Also, with the aforementioned product recalls, it's perhaps even more important that you check for promises regarding purity and safety. Does an independent company test for impurities and toxins? What guarantee do you have that the formula you're buying is safe for your skin, and for your family's? Is it dermatologist-tested, or proven safe for children? What grade is the alcohol being used?

4. Reference the FDA's list of hand sanitizers consumers should't use before making a purchase.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates hand sanitizer as an over-the-counter drug. In recent testing, they have discovered serious safety concerns from various brands, including:

"-Contamination with potentially toxic types of alcohol

- Not enough active ingredient (ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol)

- Labels with false, misleading or unproven claims.

Some hand sanitizers have been recalled and there are more than 150 hand sanitizers the FDA recommends you stop using right away."

You can reference the FDA's list here. The list is updated regularly as new test results are released. 

5. Why don't brands distinguish if they're effective against coronavirus?

This one is more complicated. While studies have shown that the range of alcohol  recommended by the CDC (60% and up) works on the virus that causes COVID, research is still ongoing and the FDA currently has restrictions regarding claims on products that kill the virus. 

6. The difference between .99 and .9999 - Understanding Log Reductions.

Sure, if you received a 99% on a paper you wrote for class you'd be pretty thrilled, right? Well with hand sanitizer, percentages work a little differently. It might sound like splitting hairs, but as it turns out, the difference between a formula that guarantees an efficacy rate of 99.99% and 99.9999% is pretty meaningful.

To measure the efficacy of these products in a lab, scientists use a method called Log Reduction. Log reductions demonstrate how effective a product is at reducing pathogens. The larger the resulting number of the test, the more effective the product is at killing microorganisms that can cause infection or illness. During efficacy testing, professionals count the number of colony forming units (or CFUs) of the studied pathogen present at the start of the test. After applying the product being tested alongside a control product, they then wait a certain amount of time before recounting the number of CFUs present. The resulting number is then expressed as the log reduction. For example, if the initial CFU count was 1,000,000 (or 106) and the end result after using the product was 1,000 (103), it would have a log reduction of 3 or a reduction of 99.9%. You can learn more about log reductions here.

Lemyn Organics Medical-Grade hand sanitizer was tested using standard method ASTM E2315, and has met or exceeded the requirements for a 6- log reduction (99.9999%), for each of the 42 organisms tested for kill times of 15, 30 and 60 seconds. (Time Kill Study #20308L, November 2020, Adamson Analytical Laboratories, Corona, CA). As you can see demonstrated below, the difference between a 99.99% and a 99.9999% log reduction is substantial.

7. Look for USP Grade alcohol.

USP grade is the highest grade of alcohol available. USP stands for U.S. Pharmaceutical grade, meaning that it is made in accordance with the quality standards of the United States Pharmacopeia, and has the least impurities.

Image via Katie Harp / Unsplash.

8. Opt for a gel formula instead of a spray.

Spray hand sanitizers are often misused, and as a result, are less effective in general. As a lot of the alcohol in spray sanitizers evaporate before it even hits your skin, you'd need at least twice as much as you think you do to adequately saturate and sanitize your hands. On top of this, inhaling sanitizer spray from the air can be harmful to your health. So needless to say, it's safer to opt for a gel formula instead.

9. Don't try to make your own hand sanitizer.

We think this should go without saying, but stop trying to make your own solution. While this might've been necessary at some point due to the lack of availability, do-it-yourself-ers should be advised that most alcohols that belong in the cabinet simply don't contain a high enough alcohol content to be effective as hand sanitizer.

Image via Louis Reed / Unsplash.

10. Purchase a brand that has a kill time.

As mentioned above, kill time is the amount of time a sanitizer takes to kill the germs on your hands. If your hand sanitizer doesn't state a kill time at all, there might be a reason they aren't telling you. For example, results from the kill study done on Lemyn Organics has shown that Lemyn is 99.9999% effective against at least 40+ illness-causing germs.

What do you look for in a hand sanitizer? Let us know in the comments below! 

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