Do Alcohol Free Hand Sanitizers Kill Bacteria and Germs? | Muse Health
Alcohol-free Health Hand Sanitizer Kill Viruses
As we enter yet another month of the pandemic and flu season, hand sanitizers continue jumping off shelves. With its easy portability and promise to kill 99.9% of germs, it is a must have item for anyone looking to keep themselves and family members safe. Hand sanitizers can be broken down into two broad categories: alcohol-based and alcohol free. With the demand for hand sanitizers at an all time high, the popularity of less harsh and natural alcohol free hand sanitizers has continued to increase.
However, with the Centers for disease control and prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) proclaiming that sanitizers need at least 60% alcohol to kill bacteria, many have questioned the validity and safety of alcohol free varieties.
In order to gain a thorough understanding of hand sanitizers, it’s important to learn how these clear substances work.
How do hand sanitizers work?
Although not as effective as hand washing, the prevalent use of hand sanitizers has made it a viable alternative in the eyes of many. With so many brands to choose from, it is important to understand the science behind sanitizers and how they work.
The Composition of Hand Sanitizers
The majority of hand sanitizers on the market are alcohol-based and created to destroy several types of germs. As expected, the main active ingredient in this variety of sanitizer is alcohol. When broken down into its chemical components, alcohol is composed of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen.
If you flip over to the back side of your hand sanitizer bottle, you’ll most likely see isopropyl alcohol, ethanol/ethyl alcohol or propanol. These alcohol types are all part of the same family but derive from different sources. For example, isopropyl alcohol is identical to what is used for rubbing alcohol while ethyl alcohol is found in alcoholic beverages.
Non-alcohol based hand sanitizers work in a similar manner except that they substitute alcohol with other bacteria killing compounds. These compounds can be essential oils that are known to have bacteria killing characteristics but are not as harsh on the skin. These formulas may also contain moisturizing agents like Aloe Vera gel.
How do hand sanitizers kill bacteria?
All cells (including bacteria) have plasma membranes that enclose and keep its organelles in one place. This membrane acts as a literal wall between the organelles of a cell and the outside world. With cells being incredibly delicate, any damage caused to it would result in the entire destruction of its internal system.
Hand sanitizers are composed with the intent of breaking down plasma membranes. This is a two step process that begins with dissolving of the outside membrane and then a further deconstruction of proteins located inside.
Cell membranes are primarily made of a special lipid known as phospholipids. Phospholipids are structured by having hydrophilic (polar and water-loving) and hydrophobic (non-polar and water-hating) sides. The hydrophilic side is also known as the head while the hydrophobic side is known as the tail.
The interesting thing about the hydrophobic end of a cell is that it is lipophilic or lipid-loving. Propanol and ethanol are naturally amphiphilic compounds meaning that they also contain both hydrophilic and hydrophobic components. Hand sanitizers work by exposing the vulnerability of lipid-loving end of phospholipids and (once attached) punctures through the cell.
Amphiphilic compounds are the ultimate trump card and make the process of breaking through a cell’s wall simple.
As you squeeze hand sanitizer into your hands, the substance bonds with cell membranes and begins the process of breaking it down.
Are alcohol-free hand sanitizers effective?
Due to the harsh and drying nature of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, many people have turned away from using them. In recent years, an alternative hand sanitizer marketed as alcohol-free has gained in popularity. However with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) buckling down on the 60% alcohol concentration standard, is it possible for sanitizers that contain no alcohol to fight off infectious diseases?
Is alcohol-free sanitizer safe?
When looking to examine the merits of alcohol-free hand sanitizer, there are many to consider. Alcohol-free hand sanitizers are low fire hazard risks and easier on the skin. Its composition does not damage surfaces and its key ingredients do not evaporate, meaning that it provides extra and longer protection.
However, even with those merits, there is not a definitive answer concerning whether alcohol-free hand sanitizers are safe to use. There are certain brands like Purell that use benzalkonium chloride as an alcohol replacement.
Benzalkonium Chloride is an antibacterial agent that is commonly found in household cleaning items. Benzalkonium Chloride works by first killing microbes and then inhibiting their future growth. This agent is also heavily utilized in personal care products like foot odor powder, sunscreen, facial cleansers, and varying makeup brands.
With many consumers wanting to use all-natural products, the idea of using a sanitizer that is not drying to the skin is appealing. The CDC has warned that although there are multiple companies selling alcohol free sanitizers, they are not as effective at killing germs as products with alcohol. While your skin may feel clean, alcohol-free hand sanitizers may only reduce the growth of new agents without getting rid of old ones.
There are certain groups of people that wholeheartedly believe that alcohol-free hand sanitizers are just as effective as alcohol-based ones. When choosing whether to purchase one variety over another, make sure to learn as much about the ingredients as possible.
Does alcohol-free hand sanitizer expire?
As with any product (that isn’t water) an expiration date is something you should monitor and note before purchasing your item. On average, hand sanitizers last anywhere from 2-3 years. There are several factors such as ingredients and quality of production that determine the shelf life of alcohol-free hand sanitizers.
After purchasing a hand sanitizer online or when in a store, look at the back or bottom of the bottle to find an expiration date. Expiration dates for products like hand sanitizers do not mean that the product is no longer usable after a specific time period. Expiration dates are markers companies use to show consumers that their product is best used before it reaches a certain date.
Hand sanitizer with alcohol last around the same time as though without alcohol. If you have questions about a product, reach out to the company to learn more.
Alcohol-free hand sanitizer vs. alcohol hand sanitizer
Because of the coronavirus pandemic and flu season, many people are making their way to local drugstores to find the perfect hand sanitizer. As you’re standing in the aisle picking between alcohol-based and alcohol-free hand sanitizers, it’s important to fully understand the merits and drawbacks of both.
Alcohol hand sanitizer is viewed by many as the safer and more effective choice. Backed by the FDA and CDC, alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain the active ingredients: alcohol or isopropanol. When examining active ingredients of alcohol hand sanitizers, as long as you see either of those listed, you can rest assured that you have a powerful antiseptic at your disposal.
As stated earlier the FDA recommends using an alcohol based hand sanitizer that has at least 60 percent alcohol content.
One concern raised by those who use alcohol hand sanitizer is the potential toxicity that occurs through accidental ingestion which can lead to alcohol poisoning. Because of easy dispensers used by hand sanitizer brands, those with young children and animals worry that accidents can happen. It is recommended to leave alcohol-based hand sanitizers in high places or counters that cannot be accessed by children or animals.
Another complaint about alcohol hand sanitizers is that continued use leaves hands dry. The feeling of dryness is uncomfortable to many and it has become a recurring issue with alcohol based hand sanitizers. Although alcohol is known to dry out skin, there are several hand sanitizer brands that have changed its formula to include moisturizing elements like glycerine and aloe vera. Looking for brands with those ingredients can help if you’re worried about dry skin.
Alcohol-free hand sanitizers are much newer to the market but have gained in popularity due to the use of other germ killing agents. With a less harsh formula, those with children and animals may choose to bypass the more traditional solution.
The biggest and most concerning drawback of alcohol-free hand sanitizers is that its ability to kill germs effectively is still yet to be determined. With the FDA consistently sticking to the 60% alcohol rule, brands that do not use alcohol in its formula are not as effective. While these formulas do clean surfaces, when compared to brands that use alcohol, there is a difference in performance.
Which Option should I pick?
Picking whether to go with an alcohol-based or alcohol-free hand sanitizer is difficult. With the spread of covid-19, it is important to fully understand the merits and limitations of both products. While hand sanitizers use similar ingredients, learning to research and examine labels will help you land on the best choice. However, when it comes to matters of health, it is best to steer on the side of caution and listen to recommendations from health care professionals and organizations. With the right hand sanitizer and remembering to wash your hands, you can inhibit the growth of germs and maintain your health.