Choosing a hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizers can help limit the spread of disease-causing germs, including the H1N1 (swine flu) virus, public health officials say. They don't, however, stop the transmission of viruses completely because these illnesses are also airborne. Experts encourage the use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer anytime you're away from soap and water and need to disinfect your hands, such as in the car or at the office. Here are a few key points to remember when shopping for hand sanitizer:

  • Pick a product that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. You might see the words "ethanol" or "isopropanol" on the label -- both are types of alcohol. Hand sanitizers with less alcohol will not work as well, studies show. Alcohol-free hand sanitizers often use the chemical BAC or plant oils to kill germs. However, health officials say there is less evidence that these products work as well.
  • Fragrance- and dye-free products may be better matches for sensitive skin, although health officials say allergic reactions to hand sanitizers are few and far between.
  • Soap is actually more drying and irritating to skin than an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, studies show. Some users find alcohol-free hand sanitizers even less drying, but public health officials say those don't kill the wide range of germs that alcohol does. If your hands still feel dry after using hand sanitizer, health experts suggest applying hand lotion.
  • Homemade hand sanitizers are not recommended. Most formulas contain too little alcohol and usage may actually spread germs.
  • Be sure to apply enough hand sanitizer. Studies show that at least 3 ml (a little more than half a teaspoon) is needed for adults to achieve the full benefits of any sanitizer.
  • Sanitizers should be vigorously rubbed into hands until they are completely dry. Experts say this generally takes approximately 20 to 30 seconds. If hands are dry sooner, you may not have applied enough.
  • Avoid sanitizers that contain Triclosan. Experts say that the antibacterial agent Triclosan, commonly found in antibacterial soaps and cleansers, can potentially increase bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

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