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How to choose and use hand sanitizer

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According to the CDC, the most effective hand sanitizer contains at least 60 percent alcohol. When possible, thorough hand washing with soap and water is still the best defense against COVID-19, but in situations where that isn't possible sanitizers offer some protection. (Adobe stock)

With the list of hand sanitizers that are unsafe growing daily, it’s important to know what to look for when purchasing this product. Dr. Shane Nygard, a family medicine physician at the Sanford Clinic in Park Rapids, answers questions about how to choose and use hand sanitizer.

What should consumers look for when purchasing hand sanitizer?

Before buying hand sanitizer, it’s important to know that no hand sanitizers have been proven to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or protect oneself from viruses or bacteria for a guaranteed period of time, such as 24 hours. No consumer hand sanitizer is FDA-approved, so any product that makes either or both of these claims is not trustworthy.

When choosing any hand sanitizer, you want to look for what ingredients are included in the product. The CDC recommends alcohol-based sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol as the most effective. This alcohol can be listed as ethanol, alcohol, isopropanol, ethyl or 2-propanol on the label. Sanitizers that contain less than 60 percent alcohol or benzalkonium chloride (a non-alcohol base) can be used but they may not work as well, reducing the number of germs rather than killing them outright.

Consumers should not use sanitizers that have methanol, wood alcohol or 1-propanol. They should also avoid using household cleaning or disinfecting products as sanitizer. These ingredients and products are not meant for use on the skin, and they can be toxic. The FDA offers many resources to help consumers navigate which hand sanitizers to avoid.

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Which ingredients have been shown to be most effective against COVID-19?

Washing our hands with plain soap and water is still the most effective method of disinfecting our hands. However, we can use hand sanitizers when washing is not possible, such as when we are getting groceries at the store or other settings where our hands can come into contact with germs but they are not heavily soiled or greasy. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the level of microbes on our hands, but it is important to note that they do not remove all types of germs. They should not be used on visibly dirty hands or to remove harmful chemicals, like pesticides or heavy metals.

What is the best website for checking easily if a product is safe?

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is an excellent resource for consumer information about hand sanitizers. They offer an FAQ addressing many concerns and a “ Do-Not-Use list ” that can help consumers find safe hand sanitizing products.

How should sanitizer be used?

It is recommended to apply the sanitizer to the palm of one hand (the label should list the appropriate amount to use, usually one pump) and rub the product all over your hands—palms, fingers and the back of your hands—until your hands are dry. Wiping your hands on your pants or other objects before they are dry can reduce the effectiveness of the sanitizer, even if it has the appropriate alcohol level.

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Related Topics: SANFORD HEALTH
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