World Hand Hygiene Day 2019: The pros and cons of using hand sanitizers

World Hand Hygiene Day 2019: The pros and cons of using hand sanitizers
You should use a hand sanitizer that has at least 60 per cent of alcohol to effectively eliminate bacteria from your hands. © Shutterstock

Hand sanitizers are the most popular alternatives to hand washes. As we celebrate World Hand Hygiene Day today, here is all you need to know about the merits and demerits of using of these alcohol-based alternatives.

Written by Editorial Team |Published : May 5, 2019 12:58 PM IST

Poor hygiene practices often lead to dangerous infections that lead to millions of deaths across the world every year. Not washing your hands properly is often the reason that makes you vulnerable to bacterial infections causing serious health complications like Hepatitis A, sepsis and respiratory infections like bronchiolitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, so on and so forth. In order to spread awareness about the importance of hand hygiene in relation to infection prevention among the general population, healthcare professionals and health policy makers, World Hand Hygiene Day is celebrated every year on 5th of May. It's a global campaign by the World Health Organization.

While the use of soap and water is the recommended way to clean your hands, another alternative has become popular recently. When you are on the go, or don t have access to soap or water, hand sanitizers are your best options. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should use a hand sanitizer that has at least 60 per cent of alcohol to effectively eliminate bacteria from your hands.

To use a hand sanitizer effectively, you need to ensure that your hands are free from any visible germ or dirt before you apply the product on your palm. Squeeze a palm-full of sanitizer on your hand and rub it for about 20-30 seconds to get the best outcome. If you are unsure about the amount you should use, you can refer to the label of the product to get an idea. Also, make sure that you use the sanitizer between your fingers, on your wrists, beneath your nails and on the back of your hands. Once the sanitizer fades away on its own and your hands are dry, you are bacteria-free. Though hand sanitizer is an effective option to wash your hands, it has its own set of pros and cons. On this World Hand Hygiene Day, we tell you about the merits and demerits of using a hand sanitizer.

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Hand sanitizers are useful to get rid of bacteria quickly and they are very handy as well. You just need to apply it sanitizeron your hands, rub for a few seconds and enjoy your food without using a soap to clean your hands.

It is more effective against germs

If your hands are not covered in dirt, you should look for a hand sanitizer to clean them as it is more effective against microorganisms as compared to your regular soap. Even the World Health Organization s (WHO's) guidelines on hand hygiene cite that an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is more effective to prevent the transmission of bacteria as compared to a plain soap and water. According to the WHO, sanitizers eliminate the bacteria more efficiently from a patients catheters and from the hands of healthcare workers. Also, if you are out with your little one, it can be difficult to keep him away from potential germ spots. In such a scenario, hand sanitizer could be your best option to reduce the chance of bacterial infection and at the same time, avoid the cumbersome use of water to clean his hands.

It is better for your skin

Majority of the new hand sanitizers contain emollients (non-cosmetic moisturisers) which are good for your skin. A number of studies has shown that hand sanitizers are better for your skin as compared to soap. In one such study published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine that focussed on healthcare workers, the researchers revealed that the infection rates and microbial count were similar after the use of alcohol-based sanitizer and soap. However, the nurses who used sanitizers showed a significant improvement in their skin condition.

An effective option during the flu season

The flu season can make you more susceptible to catch infections, especially if your defence mechanism is weak. You can catch the flu viruses from the lift button of your workplace, while travelling in public transport or touching any contaminated surface for that matter. You cannot carry soap and water all the time. Hand sanitizer is your go-to options in such situations.


While it could be a quick and efficient way to get rid of germs from your hands, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer has its own set of demerits that you need to be aware of.

May lead to antibiotic resistance

Hand sanitizers can be extremely effective against bacteria. But did you know that they can cause antibiotic resistance? Yes, some of the sanitizers carry triclosan, an antibacterial agent. Overuse of these agents can cause the development of drug-resistant bacteria. This antibacterial agent can actually kill the good bacteria as well which makes you more vulnerable against bacterial infections. According to a study conducted by the Epidemic Intelligence Service at CDC, use of hand sanitizers over soap and water for regular hand washing can lead to a six-fold risk of norovirus outbreak. Norovirus can cause the most acute gastroenteritis.

Can trigger alcohol poisoning

If your hand sanitizer doesn t contain triclosan, then the major antibacterial ingredient in your sanitizer is alcohol. Generally, ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol are used in sanitizers which vary in quantity from 60 to 95 per cent depending on the product. There have been numerous cases across the world where children and teenagers have accidently consumed hand sanitizer which have led to alcohol poisoning. Experts suggest that a few spews of a hand sanitizer can be similar to that of two hard alcohol shots.

Impairs your immune system

The triclosan present in your hand sanitizer can have an adverse effect on your immune system, making you more susceptible to catch infectious diseases. In a study conducted at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, the researchers identified that higher levels of triclosan in children and teenagers made them more likely to develop hay fever and other allergies as compared to those with low levels of this antibacterial agent.

Exposes you to harmful chemicals

Many hand sanitizers come with a fragrance that you can t resist. But this fragrance is created using toxic chemicals that can disrupt your hormone. Some fragrances contain phthalates (endocrine disrupters) which can imitate your hormones and affect your genital growth. Also, some may carry parabens, chemical compounds used to extend a product s life.