October 7th, 2020 by
Having become accustomed to the handwashing regimes required by the COVID-19 pandemic for several months, we all recognise the importance of routinely using soap and hand sanitiser. Now that many of us are going back to work and school, carrying our own hand sanitiser is a really good idea for keeping our hands clean in between washing while out and about, but do we all know what we should be looking for when buying it?
There are many variations on the market so it’s really useful to understand what it is and how it works.
How does hand sanitiser protect against COVID-19?
Covid-19 is what is known as an ‘enveloped’ virus. This means that the RNA (nucleic acid – the viral genetic material) is coated in a lipid (fatty) layer. The job of hand sanitiser (and, indeed, soap) is to dissolve this coating, cause the virus to disintegrate, and prevent it from binding to our cells.
The most effective ingredient to achieve this is alcohol.
How much alcohol content should hand sanitiser have?
Alcohol content of at least 60% is required to inactivate viruses such as COVID-19. Medical-grade gel will be at least 70% alcohol, so this is a good figure to aim for. The alcohol used in hand gels is usually either ethanol, isopropanol, or a combination of the two. These are, therefore, useful ingredients to look for. It is worth noting that an alcohol volume of 95-100% would actually be ineffective as it requires some water content to work.
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Do alcohol-free gels work?
Alcohol-free hand sanitisers are also available and will often contain ingredients such as benzalkonium chloride or chlorhexidine digluconate instead. These are anti-bacterial, rather than anti-viral and therefore less effective than alcohol on COVID-19.
British Standard classification
Hand sanitisers must conform to certain health and safety standards. BS EN numbers (British Standard European Norm) are granted to those that meet varying criteria. These will fall into cosmetic and biocide categories. The standards to look for in an anti-viral hand gel fall into the biocide category and include BS EN 1500, BS EN 1276, and BS EN 14476.
Viscosity basically relates to how thick the gel is. The thicker the gel, the better it will cling to the skin, and therefore coat it. Thinner hand gel is more likely to simply run off your hands and there is always the risk that you will be tempted to wipe them to get them dry, which could reduce its efficacy. Likewise, the drying time of a hand sanitiser is an important consideration.
Alcohol can be an irritant to the skin because it dries it out so many gels will also contain some kind of moisturiser as well. If your skin is easily irritated, look out for ingredients such as aloe vera or use separate hand cream. Alcohol-free gels tend to be gentler on the skin but less effective against viruses, as already stated.
Don’t forget hand washing
Hand sanitiser is an excellent protector against COVID-19 and other viruses, but it isn’t a substitute for handwashing. A gel is not as effective on skin that is sweaty, greasy, or dirty so a good hand washing regime is still important.
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