Q. & A. with Dr. Kiskila- This Month’s Topic: Hand Sanitizers


Board Certification: Family Practice

Board Certification: Family Practice

This Month’s Topic- Hand Sanitizers

Question:  Dr. Kiskila, I’ve heard that hand sanitizers may compromise a person’s ability to naturally fight off bacteria and germs.  Is this true?
Answer: It is believed that the overuse of antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers may lead to resistance and decrease the immune system’s ability to effectively fight off bacteria. Non-alcohol based hand sanitizers or hand sanitizers without enough alcohol may cause germs to develop resistance. We know that washing hands with soap and water is best, but under certain circumstances when soap and water are not available, proper use of hand sanitizers are good and should be used.

Question: Are some hand sanitizers better than others?

Answer: Yes. Studies show that the alcohol concentration level needs to be between 60-95% to be effective. Some hand sanitizers have less than 60%. Make sure to read the active ingredients and that there is some variation of alcohol, ethyl alcohol, ethanol or isopropanol. Make sure that whichever alcohol is listed, it’s concentration is over 60%. Less than that isn’t enough.

Question: Are hand sanitizers as effective as hand washing?

Answer: If used correctly in certain conditions, hand sanitizers can be as effective as soap and water. Hand sanitizer doesn’t cut through dirt and grime too well, so if hands are soiled, then soap and water is advised. If soap and water are not available and you are about to eat your lunch, or just typed on a keyboard, or opened a public door, then hand sanitizers are great. Make sure to rub enough sanitizer on your hands to get them wet and rub hands vigorously until dry. If your hands are dry in less than 20 seconds, you probably didn’t use enough.

Question: Are hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes equally effective?

Answer: As long as the product contains the correct amount of antibacterial agent, then it really doesn’t matter in terms of effectiveness. How you use them may play a role in which is best. If you are wiping down a surface like a tray table on an airplane, or table at a restaurant then wipes may be ideal. But if you just touched something in a public area and want to clean your hands and soap and water are not available, then hand sanitizer may be best.

The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.