Proper hand washing for 15 to 20 seconds will keep hands protected from viruses and bacteria that can make one sick, but it can also dry out the hands, says Jim Mann, executive director of the Handwashing for Life Institute.

The very act of wetting and drying the hands can remove oils in the skin, drying them out and making them more prone to redness and cracking. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the very products designed to clean hands can change the pH of the skin and remove its protective lipids in the process.
Not rinsing one’s hands thoroughly is also a problem. Users may not notice soap residue, but chemically it’s still working.

“The soaps are formulated to remove grease, and when it sits on your hands for hours it wreaks havoc,” says Mann.

Winter worsens this effect as dry cold air makes hands more prone to dermatitis and cracking. But the biggest culprit however is water. Frequent contact with water dries the skin. For this reason, in appropriate settings, Mann suggests hand sanitizers might be a viable alternative in between washing hands with soap and water.

BSCs can help by recommending the addition of a hand sanitizer to hand washing programs. Not only can alcohol sanitizing emulsion gels be used as an alternative to water-activated cleansing agents in some situations, these soap-free products can compliment soap and water programs when hands are not visibly soiled or contaminated with blood or other bodily fluids.

“Hand sanitizers are often criticized for drying the skin; it just seems like if they have alcohol in them they must be drying,” says Mann. “But that’s just not true.” 

The formula used in these products directly determines how drying they may be. While it’s true that alcohol can further irritate and sting damaged skin, it’s also true that it effectively protects against disease.

“A sanitizer with 70 percent alcohol is going to have a wide range of effectiveness, particularly against certain bugs, like norovirus,” says Mann.

Alcohol-based Sanitizers Are Tough On Germs — And On Skin

To make sure workers tolerate hand sanitizer’s alcohol content, however, it’s important that the formulas also use emollients, lanolin, humectants or other skin-conditioning agents.

“Hand sanitizers are going to be at least 60 percent alcohol, so it’s important to know what else is in the product,” says Attman. “Products with Vitamin E, for example, are easier on the skin.”

In certain settings, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer may not be appropriate. For example, most school systems require hand sanitizers to be both nonflammable and nontoxic. Here, newer quat-based hand sanitizers may be used. These products often contain benzalkonium chloride, which is less drying on the skin than alcohol, and offers germ-killing properties.

BSCs should also alert customers to how effective these products are. Attman says to look at a measurement called the LOG X SCALE, which measures what percentage of bacteria is killed with a single dose of sanitizer.

“The best performance by any product is a 6-log kill,” he says. “This means that 99.999999 percent of the bacteria is killed with one dose of the sanitizer. A 5-log kill would mean that 99.99999 percent of bacteria is killed.”

This is an important consideration because users need to know whether they need one “hit” of a particular sanitizer — or three — for it to effectively kill what it’s designed to, says Attman.

Once the appropriate product has been selected, Attman recommends putting test product into the facility so occupants can see if they like it.

“Most healthcare facilities will want to test a few different products and get worker’s opinions and infection control’s approval first to make sure it meets the purpose of killing germs,” Attman says.

previous page of this article:
CDC: 35 Percent of Occupational Diseases Are Skin-related
next page of this article:
Matching Hand Soap To The Industry Setting