The H1N1 flu virus is sweeping the nation. One of the main strategies for avoiding the flu is to regularly clean your hands.
California’s Governor Schwazenegger has even issued an emergency proclamation to help prevent that spread of H1N1 that includes using alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Hand sanitizing companies are now scrambling to fill orders.
So, what’s in those hand sanitizers and how do they work?
What’s in hand sanitizers?
Most hand sanitizers are made up of 60-90% alcohol. But, you might also find:
Glycerin—speeds repair of the skin’s protective barrier
Dimethicone—reduces sanitizer’s greasy feeling
Aloe vera gel—sooths skin
Propylene glycol—has antifungal properties
Triethanolamine—helps maintain the pH of the lotion
Ethyl alcohol (Ethanol) is found in most hand sanitizers. It is a anti-microbial agent that has been recommended as a hand sanitizer since 1888. Alcohol disinfects the skin by disrupting the metabolism of bacterial cells. To be effective, the alcohol content must be over 60%. Other alcohols, like isopropyl alcohol, are also effective, but ethyl alcohol has a lower drying effect on the skin .
When average adult applies alcohol-based hand sanitizer generously to her hands and forearms, the small amount of ethyl alcohol absorbed is equivalent to drinking 1.5 ml of wine with a 10% alcohol content.
However, in 2006, US poison centers reported 11,914 exposures to ethanol hand sanitizers, including 9,607 related to children under six. To be safe, hand sanitizers should be stored out of reach of children.
There is no requirement to disclose fragrances used in consumer products. But, a list of 3,000 common fragrances shows that approximately 1/3rd are allergens or respiratory irritants. The FDA has noted an increase in adverse reactions to fragrances in consumer products. And, an Institute of Medicine report placed fragrances in the same category as second hand smoke for triggering asthma in school age children and above.
Products containing natural oils such as thymol are an alternative to alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Also, washing your hands can be as effective as alcohol rubs, but you have to do it right: use hot water and a liquid hand soap & scrub for a minimum of 30 seconds. Be sure to scrub under your nails, too.
We do not recommend using antibacterial soap, but if you do, avoid products containing Triclosan as it can produce toxic byproducts and help create drug-resistant strains of bacteria in the environment.