No one would question that the real MVPs of the Covid crisis are frontline healthcare workers. But perhaps the most practical defense against Covid, and certainly the most portable, is hand sanitizer. This seemingly insignificant little warrior has become a mainstay in the ongoing war against Covid-19 and known variants. Its proper use has been proven to kill germs on contact from hands and other surfaces. This prevents the transmission of infectious viruses such as Covid-19, colds, and other microbes.
Recently I made note of how prevalent hand sanitizer is in our daily lives. I carry it in my purse. There is a bottle in my car. There was a dispenser at the entrance of the big box store I visited as well as the grocery store, and I almost overlooked the ones located at the register. Make no mistake, hand sanitizer is convenient, and despite a shortage in the early days of the pandemic, easily accessible. But how much do you know about hand sanitizers?
According to guidelines mandated by the CDC and other health organizations, hand sanitizers should contain a concentration of 70% ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol or greater. Most contain between 60 and 95% to ensure efficacy. Continued or repeated use, however, depletes the skin of moisture leaving behind dryness, irritation, and possible sensitivity. Dry, cracked skin actually creates an opportunity to harbor bacteria, increasing the susceptibility for infection or transmission of harmful microbes or viruses.
In addition, for persons with eczema, contact dermatitis, allergies, or generalized sensitive skin, it can trigger a reaction causing increased symptoms. As symptoms persist, the hands and affected areas may crack to the point of bleeding, increasing infection risk to the user as well as others.
For individuals with respiratory issues, sustained exposure to noxious alcohol fumes may irritate nasal passages, and in some cases, elicit a respiratory reaction such as runny nose, nose bleeds, bouts of coughing, and headache. The condition can be exacerbated by fragrances added in an attempt to mollify the pungent aroma.
Alcohol is absorbed through the skin and, in excess, can result in accidental toxicity. While this is rare, trace amounts used under normal circumstances are not considered unsafe practices. Repeated use may also corrode jewelry and dull the polish on gemstones.
Many institutions have switched to equally effective, non-drying, inoffensive formulas with benzalkonium chloride 0.12%, to combat the unpleasant side effects of alcohol-based antiseptics. They are non-drying, fast-acting, non-flammable, will not stain clothing, and unless aromatics have been added, inoffensive to individuals with sensitivity to fragrances. Unlike its alcohol-based counterpart which provides immediate disinfection, but provides zero proven sustained benefit, benzalkonium chloride provides sustained microbial resistance for up to 4 hours post use.
Suffice it to say, the true MVP and gold standard for inhibiting transmission of infectious illness is proper handwashing. It is easy to overuse hand sanitizer. Appropriately, every attempt to utilize handwashing should be the priority. However, when handwashing is inaccessible, hand sanitizer is considered the next best thing for disinfection of non-visibly soiled hands.
Her clinical and support team experiences are the inspiration for her writing and the motivation for coaching clients to success. She is a regular contributor to various publications within dentistry and beyond. In addition to feeding the homeless, starting a non-profit, and being involved in her church and other community organizations, she sings professionally and enjoys several creative outlets. She resides in Florida where she enjoys the company of her husband, three children, and four beautiful grandchildren.