When the pandemic started, there was a significant swell in the demand for alcohol products. People hoarded rubbing alcohol once they found out that there was a virus going around and they thought the need for this was more pressing now more than ever. They are not mistaken in its importance. Alcohol does mitigate enough of the bacterial spread and contamination that can transfer through our hands. There is also a great advantage of alcohol being safe for use on hard surfaces as well as on the skin.
However, this two-in-one capability has its drawbacks. Though it may be a good enough band aid solution, it is still not the best method for purposes of hand hygiene and disinfecting of contaminated surfaces.
Know that alcohol is a low level disinfectant. You may use it to clean hard surfaces, but it can only do so much. If you want to make sure that the surfaces you touch regularly are free of most microbial pathogens, consider using disinfectants with high levels of disinfection.
For your hands, alcohol can also be effective. When used too much, however, it can be an irritant to the airways, and can strip your skin of the necessary emollients it needs to still protect itself. Excessive dryness caused by this can even lead to further bacterial infection.
The fact is, washing with soap and running water under a sink is still the best way to practice hand hygiene in these unprecedented times. This is why.
- Washing with soap and water has the capacity to kill or completely eliminate the bacteria that can be found on our hands – something that not all hand rubs can do – there are those that simply prevent further growth of germs.
- The friction created by rubbing of hands together for a significant amount of time (20 seconds on average) effectively washes away viruses that are even fiercer than the coronavirus.
When to wash your hands
- after getting into contact with items that have come from foreign sources such as your deliveries, cash, car handles, doorknobs, elevator buttons, and basically after every time you’ve come from public spaces
- after using the bathroom, sneezing, coughing, blowing your nose, and before eating or preparing food – things that should be status quo even before the pandemic
- after caring for anyone who is sick
- before and after treating a wound, especially if open
- after handling food stuffs and garbage
- after being in contact with pets or other animals
How to wash your hands
- Best to be under running water. Lather for about twenty seconds – two good rounds of the Happy Birthday song – before rinsing off and drying with a clean tissue or towel. Wet hands touching other surfaces could be cause for further contamination.
- Include the spaces between your fingers and under your nails.
If your hands aren’t that soiled or greasy, and there is no other option for washing under running soap and water, then a better alternative would be to use hand sanitizer instead. Apart from the cleaning agents it has – which is most of the time 60% alcohol – it also has moisturizing ingredients that make sure to keep the natural health and emollients of your skin. This, compared to alcohol, won’t dry your skin as much, and also won’t be an irritant to your airways even with continued use.
Because of this, healthcare professionals who may not have the luxury of using running soap and water to clean their hands and need a quick decontaminator are advised to use hand sanitizer with moisturizing properties, instead of alcohol, as they move about their day.
Apart from drying the skin too much, alcohol itself also evaporates much quicker, which means it won’t be able to protect your skin as soon as you get in contact with the next substrate that can possibly contaminate or infect. There are hand sanitizers that can coat your skin from further microbial contamination for up to four hours after application.
Moisturizing hand sanitizers are a great alternative as they clean your hands and support the lipids that should stay on your skin even after rubbing.
Remember to keep these out of reach of children as their scent and colorful packaging can attract your toddler into tasting it.
Alcohol is a great two-in-one solution to disinfecting your hard surfaces as well as your skin – but this should not be the practice. It should be done only if you have no other choice.
Hand sanitizers with moisturizing properties are a good compromise between being clean and not stripping away all of your skin’s lipid protection.
Hand washing is still the go-to if you want to have clean hands.
In the same way, you should use potent hard surface disinfectants for the critical items that need superlative disinfecting.
Use according to what is most convenient, accessible, and appropriate for your needs.