General Question

flo's avatar

What is new about hand sanitizers?

Asked by flo (7369 points ) December 20th, 2013

Maybe a year or so ago, wasn’t the message:

“Try to avoid using them as much as possible because we _have found that they kill the good bacteria as well as the bad”.

What changed that they no longer mention anything about it? Now if someone asks:“Should I use the hand sanitizers?” The answer _“Yes, no problem.” nothing else. What happened between then and now?

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23 Answers

dxs's avatar

Really? Just the other day someone who has a doctorate degree in Biology told me that I should still avoid hand sanitizers because they tend to not kill off the bad germs. Then again, he also told me I should be washing my hands for a full two minutes. I still use hand sanitizer in emergencies and wash my hands for only about 30 seconds before a meal and I’m still here.

marinelife's avatar

Actually, the very latest news is that the FDA is challenging the companies that make them to prove they really kill bacteria and that the ingredients are not harmful. Source: ABC News

zenvelo's avatar

I’m not sure where you “heard” that “new” message, but it contradicts what I heard on the news just a couple days ago.

Don’t confuse anti-bacterial soap with hand sanitizers like Purell, which is an alcohol based sanitizer.

BhacSsylan's avatar

No, @marinelife, that’s not correct. That refers to antibacterial soaps, specifically those with triclosan and triclocarban, not hand sanitizers. Hand sanitizers are specifically different, because they rely on ethanol (usually), which acts in a different manner than those other antibiotics (which is also why you don’t need to worry about creating resistant bacteria with those) More direct source: “Hand sanitizers, wipes and antibacterial products used in health care settings are not affected.”

In general (and as that article says) hand sanitizers are generally seen to be fine as a stopgap measure. They work okay, and as long as you’re not bathing in it you won’t kill off enough of your own symbiotic flora for it to be an issue, as far as I am aware. It will kill some, but only locally and they’ll be back soon.

flo's avatar

@dxs So interesting. 30 seconds is longer than a lot of people by the way. Dépends what you’ve been exposing your hands to, so whole 2 minutes is long. That can’t apply to every time/ condition. Is Twinkle twinkle little star, 2 minutes long? That is the song they say to use.

@marinelife I agree with BhacSsylan. I’m referring to Purell etc. They call those hand sanitizers they don’t call the anti-bacterial soaps hand sanitizers.

dxs's avatar

@flo As a kid, the thing was to wash your hands and count out the alphabet A-Z.
I put effort into washing my hands, and don’t get sick too often. If they’re really dirty from something I’ll definitely wash them longer.
Also, I tend to still eat food with my hands, so I want to make sure they are really clean.

flo's avatar

@dxs I applaud you. How many times do I see people going out of the washroom handling door knobs etc. not go to the sink at all.

Blondesjon's avatar

@dxs . . . I’ve always heard that washing your hands for the amount of time it takes to properly sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is adequate.

flo's avatar

@BhacSsylan _or anyone of you,
“Hand sanitizers, wipes and antibacterial products used in health care settings are not affected.”
Why aren’t they affected?

BhacSsylan's avatar

Because they work through an entirely different mechanism, basically. Ethanol (and other similar ones like chlorine) works by disrupting cellular life at a pretty basic level, destroying protein and membrane structures which means that you can’t really develop a resistance to it. It affects us, too, though the relative amount of alcohol we’re ever exposed to is far lower then the relative amount that a bacteria is exposed to (getting thrown in a pool full of alcohol would kill us, as well, though our skin provides protection), though it can and does kill a number of our cells even under normal situations.

The ones under investigation, triclosan and triclocarban, work very differently. Specifically, they target several widely occurring pathways in bacteria, fatty acid synthesis and membrane construction. While they have a real mechanism of action that can and has been tested, the amount used is the important part (“the dose makes the poison”), and it seems that the amount most manufacturers put it may not be enough to actually kill bacteria. Also, since they target specific cellular pathways (unlike ethanol, which mostly just causes wholesale destruction), cells can develop resistances by simply rerouting those pathways, which is another real danger, especially when antiobiotics appear at a level low enough to kill everything.

JLeslie's avatar

I usually don’t use antibacterial soap because studies prove that washing with regular old basic soap kills off germs just fine if you do it long enough.

I don’t carry Purell or similar with me, but I do use it at the gym. It is provided by the gym and for whatever reason gym fanatics go even when they are sick, so if I toich a door I sometimes go ahead and use the Purell. Alcohol doesn’t allow bacteria to mutate like an antibiotic does. Alcohol is like stepping on an ant. Boom, dead. Alcohol is an antiseptic, not to be confused with an antibiotic. Doctors still use Purell all over hospitals. Cruise ships still use in hopes of stopping illness before it starts.

I do think all the chemicals are bad though. The best thing is to not touch your face. If you live in a cold climate that can be more difficult, because even healthy people get runny noses in the cold, and then you wipe your nose with the germs you just got a minute ago from the doorknob at work; oops, your now sick too.

jerv's avatar

It’s amazing how discovering new information can change things and challenge old “wisdom”. Remember how we used to have soldiers hunkered down in foxholes in close proximity to nuclear test blasts before we found out about radiation? Or how we used to put lead in gas and paint?

Knowledge leads to change.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv I think we already knew about radiation. In america we tend to think safe until proven otherwise and our government very much functions that way especially in the past. Other countries think in terms of having to prove something is safe before putting it out there for human use and consumption. We are better now with medications, but there are many other products we don’t test, or didn’t in the past when it seems pretty obvious it could be harmful.

Coloma's avatar

Just wear a wreath of garlic around your neck instead. ;-)

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie I don’t think we knew nearly as much about radiation in the 1940s as we do today though. But yes, we do use a “safe until proven otherwise” approach. Such are the dangers of safety regulations being determined more by lobbyists than by any scientific/medical testing.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv We may not have known as much, but we still knew it was dangerous. The government and even medical science want to believe things they do are safe. You know I have been freaked out about how doctors think CT scans and xrays are no big deal. It makes me sick how cavalier they are about it and we know about radiation. Some doctors do care and do worry, but very few. Something they do every day or prescribe every day they need to believe is ok. Luckily, some doctors take it seriously and are opting for MRI’s over CT when both can identify a problem, which is not always the case.

Smitha's avatar

Washing our hands is more effective. Hand sanitizers are meant to supplement, not a substitute for washing with soap and water. I always carry one with me in case of emergencies where water or soap is not available. Even though hand sanitizers are not needed for everyday use I don’t see too much harm in them. But our best defense is always to maintain a strong immune system and using good old soap and water. When traveling incase we might not have access to a washroom, I don’t see a problem with taking along a bottle of natural sanitizer.

JLeslie's avatar

@Smitha What is “natural” sanitizer? I never buy sanitizers, I didn’t know there are natural ones. What is the antiseptic ingredient?

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie It’s different for patients and doctors. A patient only gets one set of scans while a doctor may be near the radiating equipment for hundreds of scans a week. Do the math ;)

Smitha's avatar

@JLeslie I use Cleanwell Natural Hand Sanitizer and it is alcohol free. Its primary ingredient is thyme oil and it’s available at Target, Whole Foods Market, Bath & Body Works and Amazon.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv Doctors aren’t there, the techs are, and they are behind the wall.

Although, for two regular xrays a tech had to hold me in place my vertigo was so bad. But, He still was not in the direct line of the radiation. Xray techs wear radiation badges to keep track of how radiated they are. Still, not a job I would want.

I say again I received more or less 20 years of background radiation in less than a minute. I don’t know why anyone would be ok with that when it was unnecessary. Part of the scan was necessary, but the worst part wasn’t. One pelvic CT is like 5 head CT’s in terms of radiation load. Barbra Streisand’s center for women’s heart disease is using MRI more for the studies they are doing so women don’t get dosed up with radiation in their heart and breast area. CT is the standard practice. Honestly, very few people in medicine care that you had more radiation, they just rationalize if you have heart disease or internal injuries that problem is more immediate than the radiation, which will give you cancer 20+ years from now. They have no worry of reprocussion, you can’t definitively connect your cance to the three CT scans. CT scans are much faster, easier, and less expensive.

ISmart's avatar

not only they don’t work but they found out that the chemicals in it might not be good for us

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