Should I be using a hand sanitizer?
The Left Brain Responds
Most hand sanitizers are alcohol thickened to a gel with color & fragrance added. This isn`t the kind of alcohol you`d find in your local tavern however, it is ethanol or isopropanol. These alcohols are used because they are not potable. This way people won`t be tempted to knock back a few bottles of hand sanitizer on a wild Friday night. Some formulas contain moisturizing ingredients which can offset the drying effects of the alcohol. The rest of the ingredients like vitamins and extracts are all marketing fluff that do not really do anything.
The way that these things work is simple, you put them on your hands and most living bacteria are instantly killed. The alcohol breaks their cell walls and all their critical organelles leak out. We say most are killed because there are some crafty buggers who can form spores that are immune to alcohol. That`s why companies can only claim to kill 99.9% of germs.
After a few moments, the alcohol evaporates and your hands are briefly sanitized. Of course, that`s when the bacteria population starts to build up again. Think of it like a car windshield when it`s raining. Your hands are the windshield, the rain is bacteria and the sanitizer is the wipers. Sure the wipers remove the rain on one pass, but the rain (or bacteria) just keep coming back.
These products probably work just like they say they will, although their claims are supported by measuring microbe populations on Petri dishes and not on human skin. There may be a difference. Unfortunately, there are no studies to show a reduction in overall sickness by the use of these products.
A better option is to wash your hands with soap and water because it will actually remove all the microbes. It also has the added benefit of removing non-microbial chemicals that can also make you sick.
Beauty Brains bottom line
Hand sanitizers do work but don`t kid yourself, they are no substitute for good ol` soap and water.