Hand sanitiser is a liquid, gel or foam used to kill most microorganisms (including bacteria, viruses and fungi) living on the surface of your skin. The most effective hand sanitiser for human skin is alcohol-based, with an alcohol concentration between 75-95%. However, 60-95% is also acceptable. They can include many different ingredients such as Aloe Vera, perfumes and thickening agents. However, the alcohol concentration is a critical component in how they work. Some organisms can be more resistant to alcohol-based sanitisers (e.g., C.diff and Norovirus). However, the vast majority of organisms can be killed by high alcohol concentrations.
Alcohol Hand sanitisers have been extensively used in hospitals and medical facilities for several decades. They evaporate rapidly and can be used frequently and conveniently. Using before and after contact with potentially harmful organisms on surfaces is recommended.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, it has been recommended that alcohol-based hand sanitisers are used regularly by members of the public before entering public areas, after touching surfaces and upon leaving public areas. This is due to COVID-19 being highly susceptible to alcohol-based sanitisers, which kill the virus effectively and reduce its ability to spread through surfaces.
When microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses become exposed to high alcohol concentrations, proteins in their outer protective coatings become denatured (lose their shape and structure), which causes the organism to die rapidly. This makes alcohol-based hand sanitisers highly effective in killing the vast majority of organisms present on the skin. The alcohol then rapidly evaporates (creating a cooling sensation), but does leave behind the dead microorganisms on the surface of your skin. Hence it is still highly recommended to continue to wash your hands with soap and water regularly to remove this debris.
Hand sanitisers kill living organisms on the skin's surface; however, they do not remove dirt or grease or clean the skin. Therefore, if the skin is visibly contaminated or you know you have touched a contaminated surface (e.g., after using the toilet), you should wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Hand sanitisers are NOT an alternative to washing hands but should be used if there is no alternative until you can do so.
Due to the volatile nature of alcohol, evaporation from the skin occurs rapidly. During this process, moisture from the skin surface evaporates, resulting in drying your skin. This can be particularly evident if you use sanitiser regularly on your skin, which may become irritated, dry and red. Therefore, frequent use of moisturisers is recommended to rehydrate the affected skin. Some hand sanitisers also include a moisturising agent to reduce the drying effect of the alcohol.
You may also experience some transient burning if applying alcohol-based sanitiser to any cuts in the skin. This burning will quickly subside as the alcohol evaporates.
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