Common myths about hand sanitisers that you need to wash away

Hand sanitisers are most commonly used in public places for protection against novel coronavirus (Covid-19)

Hand sanitisers are most commonly used in public places for protection against novel coronavirus (Covid-19)

Hand sanitisers: Those alcohol-based rubs that everyone from your grandmother to the corner store is stocking in five-litre cans these days. While it is true that they have antiseptic properties because of the 60%-90% alcohol, dermatologists remind us that they are not a one-liquid-fits-all-problems solution.

Here, common myths they encounter, and the truth we should all know.

Myth 1: Hand sanitiser is the no. 1 solution to keeping germs at bay

Truth: Soap and water is — when you scrub for 20 seconds. Also, too frequent use of sanitiser can make you more prone to allergies in the long run, says Dr Radha Gongati, senior consultant dermatology, Apollo TeleHealth, Hyderabad. When compared to the corresponding months of March to June in 2019, the number of skin allergy cases she has encountered doubled in 2020. “Where earlier I saw five or six cases in a month, now I have received nine hand eczema (a condition where the skin becomes dry, flaky and itchy) complaints in a month — a few new cases and a few existing ones that got aggravated,” she says.

While a little bottle of sanitiser is easy to carry, use it only when you have no access to soap and water.

However, doctors says there is no conclusive study to indicate that the rise in skin allergies is due to excessive or continuous use of hand sanitisers. “We speak based principally on clinical observations,” says Dr Hema Sathish, a Madurai-based skin specialist, who has seen a spike in eczema in her online consultancy over the past three months.

Washing of hands with soap under running water

Washing of hands with soap under running water

Myth 2: As long as I use sanitiser, I’m safe

Truth: “Sanitisers give people a false sense of security of being 100% disease-free. Though its use is beneficial, it is not 100% protective,” says Dr Gongati. It’s important to avoid needlessly touching surfaces in public places, for instance. Also, do take into consideration that after the initial shortage, many locally manufactured sanitisers (often without necessary labelling) have flooded the market in which the composition and combination of ingredients (chemicals and alcohol) can vary. Ideally, sanitiser should evaporate within a few seconds of application. If it doesn’t, and remains watery, you know it may not have the required amount of alcohol. Good quality sanitisers are a little thick in consistency and spread evenly on the hands.

While buying a sanitiser, check if it contains triclosan, a powerful anti-bacterial agent used in pesticides. It is readily absorbed by the skin and can act on thyroid functioning, causing damage over the long term to liver and muscles. Synthetic fragrances in sanitisers can be toxic and act as endocrine disruptors (chemicals that interfere with hormonal systems). Also remember that sanitisers are inflammable and can burn near fire. You need to store them in air-tight bottles in cool and dry places.

Myth 3: If I have no soap, it’s best to use sanitiser

Truth: “Grease and dirt in combination with sanitiser attract more viruses and germs instead of working on them. Always remember, water cleans and sanitiser disinfects,” says Dr Sathish. The impact of sanitiser is also minimised when applied on wet hands. If you don’t have soap, avoid handling food altogether, because if you eat immediately after applying sanitiser, it could impact your digestive system, making children particularly vulnerable because of the chemicals. If it’s something you’re eating out of a packet, try and manipulate the packaging in a way that your hands don’t touch the food.

Myth 4: A dab of sanitiser obliterates Coronavirus

Truth: Just using a tiny drop of sanitiser is meaningless, says Dr Sathish. You need to squirt a copious amount — enough to fill your palm when you cup your hand. Rub it gently all over, including between the fingers and the back of your hands, until your hands are fully dry. The aim is to coat the hand to form a protective film, so avoid scrubbing like you would with soap.

On the other end of the spectrum are those, often people with OCD, who wash their facial masks with sanitisers. This could cause the vapours to get trapped in the fabric and the fumes can cause nausea and vomiting.

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Printable version | Aug 18, 2022 4:57:13 pm |