Why using some hand sanitiser products may affect your skin

As the need for us all to use hand sanitiser regularly looks set to continue, some people are finding that not all hand-sanitising products are good for the skin. Some NHS nurses for example, have reported having cracked, dry hands – so, what might be the cause of this?  

It actually may depend on the type of hand-sanitising product that you use.  There are two main types of hand sanitiser – the gel and the rub.   

Hand sanitiser gel versus rub  which is best? 

Hand sanitiser rub is easily distinguished from gel because of its consistency. Many of us will have used the rub when visiting hospitals for example.  When you apply rub to your hands, you will find it’s as liquid as water, and will drip or run off your hands as you use it.  

The amount of alcohol in a hand sanitising rub is generally higher at around 80% Ethanol (rather than the 65-70% found in gels)  to ensure that the alcohol will effectively kill any bacteria, while also allowing for the fact that the rub will remain on the hands for a much shorter time period due to its thinner consistency.  Unlike high-quality hand sanitiser gels, rubs contain no moisturisers or pH balancers to counter the harmful burning effects of the alcohol, so the alcohol will continue to dry and irritate the skin with nothing to mitigate it. 

Most hand sanitiser gels, however, are superior in quality and consistency and the strength of the alcohol does not need to be as high because the product stays on the hands longer than a rub.  Despite having a lower strength of alcohol, a gel is generally more effective than a rub and most importantly, a high quality gel will usually also contain pH balancers and moisturiser, to further protect the skin from pain or discomfort as the table below shows: 

WHO* Recommended Hand Rub Formula High-Quality Gel Formula 
Ethanol 80% Ethanol 70% 
Hydrogen Peroxide Polymer (Gelling Agent) 
Glycerol (Emollient) Skin Softener (Emollient) 
Distilled Water Bacteria-free Distilled Water 
 pH Balancer 
*World Health Organisation 

The Science behind it  

In our last blog post Why is alcohol content so important in hand sanitising gel? we explained that the process alcohol uses to kill germs is called denaturing, which works through destruction of membranes of cells and then vital proteins. However, that same process can also affect human skin, which then creates cracks and cuts.   The alcohol in a rub or gel can also have a drying effect on skin, so a high-quality gel sanitiser containing skin softener or moisturiser and pH balancer such as Medichief Hand Sanitiser Gel is key in avoiding any possible longer-term skin damage.  

Our advice when purchasing a hand sanitiser product, is to take a good look at the label or datasheet to ensure you are buying a high-quality gel, which will not only keep hands sanitised but also protected from any damage too. 

Medichief supplies a range of Hand Hygiene products and Infection Control equipment suitable for healthcare, commercial and personal use.  Our products set the standard for those who are seeking competitively priced, superior quality, approved infection control equipment.  For further information contact us on 01572 772659 or email us at info@medichiefglobal.com 

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