By Jim Arbogast, Ph.D.
Hygiene Sciences and Public Health Advancements Vice President, GOJO Industries
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers play a role in reducing germs on your hands. In fact, practicing good hand hygiene – handwashing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when hands are not visibly soiled – is one of the most effective ways to kill germs.
The Public Health Agency of Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in healthcare because it is safe, convenient, and highly effective.1,2 In a time when hand hygiene is so vital, but misinformation is prevalent, it’s important for us to understand the facts about hand sanitizers. Be prepared to respond to common myths about alcohol-based hand sanitizer with these truths.
Myth #1: Using hand sanitizer creates antibiotic resistance
Truth: The use of PURELL® Advanced Hand Sanitizer does NOT cause antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotics are ingested and operate completely differently than alcohol-based hand sanitizers. The alcohol in hand sanitizer quickly kills a broad spectrum of germs and is not left on skin to let the germs become resistant.
According to Health Canada, the primary cause of antibiotic resistance is the overuse of antibiotics.3
Myth #2: Hand sanitizers create supergerms
Truth: The use of PURELL® Advanced Hand Sanitizer does NOT create supergerms.
This myth is similar to Myth #1. “Supergerms” is a term used to refer to hard to kill microbes. Ethyl alcohol, the active ingredient in PURELL® Brand Hand Sanitizers, rapidly destroys the cell membranes and denatures the protein – which means it’s not left behind to let the germs become resistant or become what some people call “supergerms.”
Myth #3: All germs are the same
Truth: All germs are NOT created equal. There are transient organisms (bad germs) and resident organisms (good germs).
There are two types of germs. Resident organisms live on our skin at all layers of the skin. Transient organisms are acquired as you touch something – think railings, menus, remote controls, or door knobs – and can be transmitted into your body to make you sick – or can make someone else sick, when they touch objects that you have touched.
Myth #4: Using hand sanitizer kills all of the germs, even the good germs
Truth: PURELL® Advanced Hand Sanitizer helps maintain the normal microflora of the skin.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers reduce the transient organisms – the goal being to reduce germs below the infectious dose (what your immune system can handle). Hand sanitizers do reduce the resident organisms, or what some people call the “good germs,” but those good germs quickly grow back and remain as our normal microflora. Hand sanitizing or hand washing does NOT sterilize or eliminate all microbes on your skin!4,5
Myth #5: All alcohol-based hand sanitizers are the same
Truth: The formulation matters, not all sanitizers are the same.
While the active ingredient and percentage of alcohol is important, the total formulation affects the antimicrobial efficacy (how fast it works and the types of microbes it kills). The product also must deliver good skin care performance – at least not damage the skin. It also needs to provide a good sensory experience: if it’s enjoyable to use, you are more likely to use it at key moments. In addition to being effective and pleasing to use, the product must also be safe to use.
PURELL® Products adhere to the highest standards of product formulation and production - only sourced from suppliers who offer ethyl alcohol suitable for Natural Health Products (NHPs). We conduct rigorous quality testing of both the alcohol and the finished PURELL® Hand Sanitizer to ensure it meets Health Canada drug product quality requirements. In addition, GOJO has always included a denaturant in PURELL® Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer to help deter misuse.
Myth #6: Hand sanitizers can make claims about its effectiveness against viruses
Truth: Health Canada has not approved making antiviral claims for this category of products.
Hand sanitizers are regulated by Health Canada under the Food and Drugs Act and Natural Health Product Regulations. The regulatory pathway that GOJO followed was the Human-Use Antiseptic Drugs (HUAD) Guidance Document which applies to professional and commercial use antiseptic skin products. Health Canada has very strict requirements regarding the data that needs to be submitted to support the claims that can be made on these products. Although PURELL hand sanitizer’s active ingredient is ethyl alcohol 62%-70% v/v, a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent, Health Canada has not approved making antiviral claims for this category of products. Therefore, no claims can be made regarding hand sanitizer’s effectiveness against viruses, such as colds or the flu, whether PURELL or any other brand.
Myth #7: Frequent use of hand sanitizers dries out my hands
Truth: PURELL® Advanced Hand Sanitizer maintains or improves skin condition.
This goes back to formulation matters – PURELL® Hand Sanitizers include skin conditioners that absorb into the skin in a helpful way. PURELL® hand sanitizers have been developed to be used repeatedly without damage to the skin. Studies show that use of PURELL even in high-frequency settings like healthcare does not dry out skin6
The truth is that good hand hygiene, including using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, is a great preventative measure that helps reduce germs on hands that may cause illness.