Hand Sanitizers 101: All You Need to Know

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3 min read

Healthy Matters

It’s impossible to have gone through the last few months without using a hand sanitizer at least a few times a day. But how much do you really know? Healthy Matters brings you a guide to hand sanitizers - with HK and WHO recommendations to at-home instructions to making your own. 


How does hand sanitizer work?

The alcohol in hand sanitizers destroys disease-causing agents or pathogens by breaking down the protein. Alcohol concentrations as low as 30% can break down the protein but the higher the percentage the more effective and quick it will be. That being said, a concentration of over 95% stops being effective. Hand sanitizers don't work for all germs (not to fear, it is effective for COVID-19), nor does it work for pesticides or heavy metals. In those cases, washing your hands with soap and water is probably the most effective.

The different types of hand sanitizers

Many different kinds of sanitizers exist. The most common is gel hand sanitizer: it's the easiest form of sanitizer to bring on the go as it is often sold in small, portable bottles with practical holders. Spray sanitizers are also very popular as they're easy to carry around and can be used on surfaces and objects as well. Foam sanitizers are found more and more especially in public places and are sometimes preferred because the product is less likely to slip off your hand. Lastly, sanitizing wipes which are most often used to sanitize objects and surfaces. 


Which brands are the best?

It is generally safer to buy recognized brands of hand sanitizer, many of which can be found at Mannings or Watson's, or any other local pharmacy. Recognised brands include Walch (威露士), Dettol (滴露) and Purell.

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What are the Hong Kong government’s recommendations?

The Hong Kong government recommends a concentration of 70-80%, compared to the WHO’s guideline of 60-80%. The Hong Kong Consumer Council has made resources available to the public about alcohol sanitizers. 




Infographic taken from the Consumer Council website.


They also released a video detailing tests that were conducted by Choice magazine which revealed that some samples of hand sanitizers contained dangerous amounts of methanol and many were not up to standard.



How to use hand sanitizers properly?

If possible, before using hand sanitizers, make sure your hands are clear of dirt, grease and any organic matter. Then apply a dime sized amount and rub your hands for 30-60 seconds, going over your palms and between your fingers as you would with soap. Then wait until the product is completely dry and don’t wipe the sanitizer off to give the alcohol a chance to be effective. Make sure you don’t touch anything, particularly food, until the product is completely dry.


Are hand sanitizers dangerous?

When used as recommended, hand sanitizers are safe. It is nevertheless important to check ingredients carefully - as mentioned above, some Hong Kong distributors were found making hand sanitizers with traces of methanol, the simplest form of alcohol but far more toxic than ethanol.  


Your skin harbours both good and bad bacteria and hand sanitizers removes both. When ‘good’ bacteria is removed it can be replaced by ‘bad’ bacteria. Furthermore, hand sanitizers can contribute to the microbes’ antibiotic resistance and strengthen them. This is why using soap and water (when convenient) is better for our skin. That being said, in the current climate, slowing the spread of COVID-19 is the priority and the increased use of alcohol based sanitizers during this time period is recommended.


How to make your own hand sanitizer?

Making your own hand sanitizer can be a good solution if you have adverse reactions to the synthetic materials in regular hand sanitizer.




What you’ll need

  • 99% isopropyl or rubbing alcohol
  • Aloe vera gel
  • An essential oil (with antiseptic properties) like lavender or tea tree oil 

How it’s made 

  • Make sure the table or counter you’re making it on is thoroughly cleaned, as well as your hands
  • Using a clean spoon and bowl, mix 2 parts alcohol with 1 part aloe vera gel

Make sure to keep a 2:1 proportion of alcohol to aloe vera, this is a way to ensure the alcohol percentage stays above 60%.  


Keep in mind: Making hand sanitizer can be a good solution in case of shortage or allergies, but in general it is preferable to use one that is store bought. Mixing up the dosages can create a mixture very unsafe for use and unsanitized workstation can contaminate the sanitizer thus making it useless. 


What to remember

Although hand sanitizer is effective and safe, it should only be used when soap and water are not readily available. Soap and water is the most effective way to thoroughly clean our hands. With that said, keep your hands clean and stay safe!

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This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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