5 Truths About Instant Hand Sanitizers

While the effects of H1N1 may be slipping from breaking newsworthiness, keep in mind that the annual flu is just beginning to rear its snotty head. The aches and sniffles this season ushers in remind us of basic disease theory.  When germs spread, folks get sick. Since you and I don't want to be among the unfortunate, we arm our bathrooms, purses, and office spaces with copious amounts of instant hand sanitizer. 

After all, it's portable, easy, and needs no water.  But are we really protected by them?  Are they more effective that antibacterial soap with water?  And what are the best brands to use?  According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, cleaning your hands with hand sanitizer is equally effective at killing germs as traditional soap and water--when hands aren't visibly dirty.  Don't expect the Purell to remove caked-on dirt.  Instant sanitizers should be used on unsoiled hands.

So keep a bottle tucked in your bags (or man-bag) and get ready to fight the winter germies.  Don't ignore these basic tidbits and buying truths before stocking up:

1. If you're buying an alcohol-based product, buy one with a skin-softening agent. Alcohol is extremely harsh on the skin. Dial with moisturizers is a good bet. Purell is another strong contender with a line of scented and unscented instant hand cleaners. If you are an anti-bac junkie make sure your lather with lotion several times a day--winter dry skin with constant alcohol application is a recipe for cracked and bleeding hands.

2. Non-alcohol-based cleansers can be just as (if not more) effective at killing germs without trashing your epidermis. Emergency Medical Products developed a gentle yet 99.999% effective product for cruise lines and the product is also available to the general public. DepHyze foaming hand sanitizer is gentle to the skin and eyes, effective against a host of nasty bacteria, and maintains a 120 minute contact barrier against those disease spreading pathogens.

3. Supervise children while administering anit-bac gel. You've probably heard some urban rumors about kids dying after ingesting hand sanitizer. While nothing substantiated exists to prove it, it goes without saying that your kid will probably get pretty sick if he drinks half a bottle.  The Center for Disease Control recommends that instant hand sanitizer be used when soap and water aren't available, especially in schools, where disease is rampant. Use some common sense, but don't hesitate to call Poison Control if your toddler swallows a tablespoon or more.

4. Anti-bac is revolting to the taste. After applying, wait at least five minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate before eating finger foods or feeding babies. Non-alcohol-based cleansers don't taste nearly as bad.

5. Above all, don't go crazy with the anti-bac. Last summer the FDA issued a recall for several Clarcon instant hand sanitizer products for having dangerously high levels of disease causing bacteria. Use it sparingly, but not exclusively. While it may be as effective as soap and water, our bodies need some bacteria to maintain a healthy immune system.

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