Myths and misconceptions about hand sanitizers abound. But we have consulted the best research to debunk the myths that are floating around about these products.
Myth: A hand sanitizer can keep you from getting the flu.
Fact: Not necessarily. Hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol can kill flu viruses on hands, and people are less likely to catch the flu in that way. However, flu viruses are also airborne; individuals can breathe in germs and become infected. In fact, studies show that regular use of hand sanitizers may not cut down on the incidence of cold and flu, but it is simply good hygiene and may be better at reducing the transmission of gastrointestinal diseases.
Myth: Hand sanitizers create drug-resistant super-bacteria.
Fact: Not if alcohol is the active ingredient. Why? Alcohol physically destroys germs, experts say. Additionally, there is no scientific evidence that bacteria can develop a resistance to alcohol and create a superbug, says Dr. Didier Pittet, one of the authors of the CDC's hand sanitation guidelines. In fact, alcohol-based hand sanitizers have been shown to kill "even multi-drug resistant pathogens," according to Infection Control Today, a magazine for infection preventionists and their colleagues in operating rooms, sterile processing, environmental services and materials management. That said, less is known about the ingredients in alcohol-free and natural hand sanitizers.
Myth: Washing with soap and water eliminates more germs.
Fact: Not necessarily. If your hands are visibly soiled, then soap and water is the best way to get them clean; hand sanitizers will not get rid of dirt. However, if your hands are visibly dirt-free but germ-ridden, an alcohol hand sanitizer is a smart way to go, because these products eliminate more germs than soap and water, according to more than 20 studies cited by the CDC.
Myth: Hand sanitizers irritate skin.
Fact: Skin reactions to hand sanitizers are rare, according to the CDC, because these products generally contain emollients that protect and soothe the skin. In fact, CDC experts say alcohol-based hand sanitizers are gentler on skin than soap and water. For example, in a Brown University study, subjects washed their hands with soap and water for two weeks, then used only an alcohol sanitizer for the same amount of time. In the end, subjects reported that their hands looked and felt drier when washed with soap and water. Final tests confirmed that the level of moisture in their skin fell measurably after these rinses, while the hand sanitizer did not affect skin.
Myth: Homemade hand sanitizers rival store brands.
Fact: While there are many recipes currently floating around on the web, most homemade products don't contain the recommended 60 percent alcohol to optimally kill germs. For best results, buy a store brand.