hand sanitizers

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Hand Sanitizers: Are They Really Worth It?

By Aayesha Siddiqui (@aayesha)
CommonHealth Contributor

Last week I posted about norovius, a common and contagious virus that sends people scurrying for the bathroom. One of the take home lessons was the importance of routinely washing your hands, whether you’re sick or healthy.

But then came the inevitable question: What about hand sanitizers? Won’t they work?

You’ll find wall dispensers full of alcohol-based liquids, gels, and foams outside elevators, in public bathrooms, all around the hospital even. Parents send their kids to school with mini-bottles of the stuff. One of our readers commented, “I keep one in my car to apply after being in public places like stores and supermarkets…thought I was getting rid of the germs.”

Our reader is getting rid of a lot of germs—but not all of them.

The Science Behind the Sanitizer

If you look at the active ingredient on the back label of your hand sanitizer, you’ll most likely find it’s ethyl alcohol (a.k.a. ethanol, the same alcohol that’s in your glass of wine or in your spray of perfume) or isopropyl alcohol (a.k.a. isopropanol, but you probably know it as rubbing alcohol). The bottle should also say that it’s between 60% to 95% alcohol (the concentration that’s most effective in killing off most germs).

So, how does the alcohol actually work? Think of a germ as having a well manicured hair-do. Continue reading