Does Hand Sanitizer keep your hands Germ-Free?
Is the popularity of Hand Sanitizers justified? Although most health officials say that soap and water is the best way to keep your hands virus-free, when you’re not near a sink, the experts say, Hand Sanitizers is the next best thing. To get the maximum benefit from Hand Sanitizers, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention recommends that people use Hand Sanitizers that contains at least 60% alcohol, cover all surfaces of their hands with the product, and rub them together until dry.
Even before scientists knew that germs existed, doctors made the link between hand washing and health. American medical reformer Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Hungarian, Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis, both linked poor hand hygiene with increased rates of postpartum infections in the 1840s, almost 20 years before famed French biologist Louis Pasteur published his first germ theory findings. In 1966, while still a nursing student, Lupe Hernandez patented an alcohol-containing, gel-based Hand Sanitizer for hospitals. And in 1988, the firm Gojo introduced Purell, which is the first alcohol-containing gel Hand Sanitizer for consumers.
Although some Hand Sanitizers are sold without alcohol, it is the main ingredient in most products currently being snatched from store shelves. That’s because alcohol is a very effective disinfectant that is also safe to put on your skin. Alcohol’s job is to break up the outer coatings of bacteria and viruses.
The Scientists Point of View:
SARS-CoV-2 is what’s known as an enveloped virus. Some viruses protect themselves with only a cage made of proteins. But as enveloped viruses leave cells they’ve infected, the viruses wrap themselves in a coat made of some of the cells’ lipid-based walls as well as some of their own proteins. According to chemist Pall Thordarson of the University of New South Wales, the lipid bi layers that surround enveloped viruses like SARS-CoV-2 are held together by a combination of hydrogen bonds and hydrophobic interactions. Like the lipids protecting these microorganisms, alcohols have a polar and a non polar region, so “ethanol and other alcohols disrupt these supra molecular interactions, effectively ‘dissolving’ the lipid membranes,” Thordarson says. However, he adds, you need a fairly high concentration of alcohol to rapidly break apart the organisms’ protective coating—which is why the CDC recommends using Hand Sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol.