Your Hand Sanitizer Should Contain At Least 60 Percent Alcohol

Let’s be real: When you’re on the go, you can’t always guarantee a solid sink sitch to wash your hands in with soap and water. Maybe the soap dispenser is empty or the water isn’t running. That’s why I keep a stash of hand sanitizer with me at all times. And, according to doctors and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that’s a pretty solid backup plan.

“Hand sanitizer is a good way to disinfect when no access to soap and water, between hand washes,” says Dr. Andrew Alexis, MD, chair of Mount Sinai’s department of dermatology.

Still, you’ve got to use the stuff correctly (more on that in a sec), and make sure it contains the right ingredients: “Alcohol-based sanitizers with 60 percent alcohol or higher are best at killing many types of germs,” says Alexis. If your bottle contains any less than that, it may reduce growth of germs but not kill them.

What are the active ingredients in hand sanitizer again?

Alcohol is the key, per Alexis. “Other active ingredients may be ineffective.” The presence of alcohol will be indicated by one of these three ingredients on the product’s label: alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, or benzalkonium chloride.

Also, FWIW, last year the FDA updated its guidelines on OTC consumer antiseptic rub products and pinpointed 28 ingredients that can no longer be used. Any products containing these newly banned ingredients must be removed before April 12, 2020. You can find the full list of no-no ingredients in the FDA’s final ruling on the subject.

What’s the best way to use hand sanitizer?

Using hand sanitizer properly may seem like a no brainer, but there are a few best practices you need to know. For starters, “Ensure hands are dry and not visibly soiled,” says Alexis. He also recommends removing jewelry, like rings, pre-application so you don’t miss any spots.

How does hand sanitizer compare to soap and water?

Hand sanitizer does work, but your go-to should still be washing your hands with soap and water. When you do, make sure you’re scrubbing at least 20 seconds (time yourself by singing the birthday song twice) whenever possible, per the CDC. “Hand washing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands. But if soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol can help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others,” the CDC says. “Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can inactivate many types of microbes very effectively when used correctly.”

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