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How to use hand sanitisers correctly

Using soap and water is the best way to clean your hands but if you cannot do that, read these tips on hand sanitiser use

Pretty much everyone in Singapore has been hyper aware of the need to tote around a bottle of hand sanitiser during the Covid-19 outbreak.

A Japanese study last year revealed that while citizens may be diligent about that practice, they might not necessarily know the right amount to use or even the best way to use it so their hands actually stay germ-free.

Japanese researchers found that hand sanitiser would have to be rubbed for at least four minutes in order to kill the influenza A (H1N1) virus.

Here are some of the dos and don'ts when it comes to effectively using your hand sanitiser to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Washing your hands is actually better for you

Some people think of hand sanitiser as a cure-all for ridding their hands of germs instead of actually washing their hands with soap and water.

But Dr Kalisvar Marimuthu, senior infectious disease consultant at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), said washing hands with soap is the best way to get rid of germs.

Hand sanitiser does not actually get rid of the germs on your hands - it just kills the germs, making them non-infectious.

This means the germs actually remain on your hands.

Dr Marimuthu also suggested that antibacterial wet wipes could actually spread germs throughout your hands instead of killing them off.

For wet wipes to work, they would have to have an alcohol percentage level of at least 40 per cent. They are actually better for cleaning environmental surfaces.

Hand sanitiser has to contain at least 60 per cent alcohol

Forget your fruit- or floral-smelling hand sanitiser with an alcohol percentage of less than 60 per cent as it is not effective.

For hand sanitiser to work, it actually requires a significant amount of alcohol to attack and destroy the envelope protein that surrounds a virus.

The "crown" of proteins found on the coronavirus is actually a small integral membrane that is responsible for its multiplication and life cycle. If you are worried about your hands drying out and getting all chapped from the consistent hand-washing and sanitising, moisturise with hand cream in between.

Do not sneeze into your hands and assume it is okay to sanitise it afterwards

A study done by the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine revealed that when mucus is wet and is rubbed with hand sanitiser, it takes about four minutes for the hand sanitiser to take effect and kill off the virus. This is because the thick viscosity of mucus is said to be able to "protect" the virus it has encased. But, when washing hands with soap and water, all it took was 30 seconds to kill the virus.

Will you get a stomachache from touching your food after using hand sanitiser?

If you absolutely have no access to soap and water and cannot wash your hands, the sanitiser is your best bet. Be sure to wait till your hands are fully dry - this could take at least 20 seconds - before you touch any food. However, it will take copious amounts of hand sanitiser to cause you food poisoning or affect your stomach.

Make sure you are using enough

Unlike your expensive cleansers, you should dispense more than a 20-cent coin-size blob of hand sanitiser for it to work effectively.

The sanitiser should ideally cover the entire surface of your hands. Alternatively, you can read the label on the bottle for the right amount to apply each time so you know just how much you actually need.

Don't use hand sanitiser to get rid of visible dirt or grease on hands

Remember how there is usually a membrane or barrier that protects germs and viruses? The same applies to greasy and sticky hands. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hand sanitiser works best in clinical settings like hospitals where hands come into contact with germs but not on heavily soiled or greasy hands. For the latter, it is best to wash your hands with soap and water.

Hand sanitiser can and will expire

Unless you religiously shower in hand sanitiser, chances are it will take a long time for you to finish an entire bottle.

If you are one of those who has been hoarding hand sanitiser, you might find yourself regretting life choices when you find out that it does expire.

Dr Niket Sonpal, an internist and gastroenterologist based in New York, said sanitisers usually expire approximately three years from the date of manufacturing. This is because alcohol in hand sanitisers usually evaporate over time and if that percentage level hits below 60 per cent, there is a chance its formulation might not be as effective.

Should you make your own hand sanitiser?

According to local skincare business owner Hann Chia, people generally do not use the proper ingredients to make hand sanitiser.

She also noted that there is a need to use solubilisers and preservatives to ensure the efficacy of home-made formulations.

Dermatopathologist Gretchen Frieling adds that making your own hand sanitiser formulation can be complex and you would have to do all calculations correctly so that your hand sanitiser is effective. You would also have to use highly sterile utensils and containers so that your hand sanitisers are not contaminated.

This article was first published in Cleo Singapore (