A woman in an office squirts hand sanitizer onto her left palm.
Trade Talk

Does hand sanitizer actually work?

When soap and water are not readily available, many people turn to hand sanitizers as an alternative for maintaining hand hygiene. But does hand sanitizer actually work? Get answers to common questions about this quick substitute for hand washing.

5 answers about hand sanitizer

Does hand sanitizer kill germs? Are they all the same? Here are some basic facts surrounding hand sanitizers and how they work to keep hands healthy.

1. Are all hand sanitizers the same?

The formulation of a hand sanitizer is key to its effectiveness in preventing the spread of germs, so no two hand sanitizers are the same.

The Centers for Disease Control recommend using hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol. Other alcohol-free hand sanitizers are available on the market that are formulated with 0.1% benzalkonium chloride.

Whereas alcohol-based hand sanitizers come in gel or liquid form, alcohol-free hand sanitizers come in the form of a foam. As long as the formulation is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you can trust it to work effectively.

2. Does hand sanitizer kill germs?

When used correctly, hand sanitizers do kill germs. If soap and water are not an option, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be substituted to clean hands.

Germs live on all surfaces, especially the skin, and are easily transferred by touch. It’s important to use hand sanitizer at key times, such as at the gas station or after stepping off the elevator, in order to effectively prevent the spread of illness-causing germs.

Pro tip: The CDC recommends using enough hand sanitizer to coat the hands entirely and rubbing hands together until the sanitizer dries in order to effectively kill germs.

3. Does sanitizer dry out the skin?

It’s a common misconception that alcohol-based hand sanitizers dry out the skin, but not all of them do. It’s the formulation of ingredients in the hand sanitizer that matters. Look for hand sanitizers that include aloe in the formulation for additional skin moisturizing benefits.

4. Does hand sanitizer create super germs?

One of the myths surrounding alcohol-based hand sanitizers is that they create “super germs.” Some people believe the myth that there may be leftover germs not destroyed by the hand sanitizer, and in turn those germs become resistant and grow stronger.

In truth, ethyl alcohol, the active ingredient in alcohol-based hand sanitizers, rapidly destroys the cell membranes of germs, making way for its destruction entirely. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not create super germs.

5. Does hand sanitizer contain triclosan?

One misconception about hand sanitizers is that they are formulated with triclosan, a chemical that is used in other products as an antibacterial agent. In 2019, the FDA officially banned the use of triclosan in alcohol-based hand sanitizers or products that are left on the skin. Hand sanitizers are triclosan-free.

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