How does hand sanitiser work and is it safe?

How does hand sanitiser work and is it safe?

How does hand sanitiser work and is it safe?

Alcohol-based hand sanitisers and medical workers are the real heroes of airports and hospitals. They are allies against the flu and supposedly effective against all the things viral, but how does hand sanitiser work and is it safe?

Not to mention, is it true that they kill 99.9% of germs? Most Popular hand sanitisers are alcohol-based, the active ingredient is around 70% alcohol, depending on the formulation. The alcohol can either be ethanol which is the same stuff in your alcoholic beverages or isopropyl alcohol.

All these pretty much work the same way though, which is by dissolving the outer coats of bacteria and viruses. This causes them to lose their form and ability to stay alive. Alcohol is popular with water-loving hydroxyl groups, and it loves to disrupt the protein and lipid molecules. This is what makes up both bacterial membranes and viral envelopes. When those all-important outer coats fall apart these disease-causing germs die. Therefore, leaving them in no position to make anyone sick.

What about people who never touch hand sanitiser because it will breed unkillable super germs that will kill us all? That’s a valid concern with antibiotics which are chemicals that target some points in the bacterium lifecycle. Antibiotics and antimicrobial handsoap can lead to the emergence of bacterial strains that are resistant and harder to kill. However, resistance isn’t really a problem with alcohol-based hand sanitisers. Bacteria can’t develop resistance to having their proteins and membranes blasted, so these alcohol-based hand rubs aren’t going to stop working. Make sure they are alcohol-based though, some contain antibiotics instead of alcohol and those do carry the risk of resistance.

What else is in hand sanitiser?

Alcohol and water alone do not make hand sanitiser. Even though it is the alcohol that does the germ-killing, there are other ingredients in sanitiser as well. The biggest one is glycerol. This is added not to kill the germs, but to give the hand sanitiser less viscose consistency, making it more portable and easier to use.

Ethanol and isopropanol can dry out your skin, glycerol will help counteract that effect but so do a host of other additives manufacturers might put in which often include tocopherol acetate. Thus is a molecule very similar to vitamin E that also happens to be great for your skin and some familiar stuff like aloe, a host of colours and fragrances might also go in there. None of them is necessary to make the hand sanitiser work, but they might make your hands smell better. An ethanol-based hand rub might also contain bitter or bad-tasting compounds to stop the small percentage of desperate people out there who are willing to drink it.

Does hand sanitiser really kill 99.9% of germs? Well, those numbers are usually results of lab testing. This comes down to the alcohol content and the amount of contact time the alcohol has on your hands. The effectiveness of your alcohol rub can also vary on how oily or dirty your hands are, how much alcohol is in there and which germs you’re actually talking about.

Under ideal conditions, most disease-causing germs really do subside with a good dose of germ-killing hand rub. You should keep in mind they work best when in combination with a handwashing regimen. This is because hand sanitiser does not physically remove dirt and gunk from your hands. So don’t forget that soap and water!

Always have a bottle of your hand sanitiser wherever you go! If you’re in need of some hand sanitiser, follow our links and get yours delivered straight to your door!

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