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Similarly to UV sanitizers and face masks (including antimicrobial face coverings), hand sanitizers have become highly sought-after due to coronavirus. The only issue? Popular purveyors of hand sanitizers were unable to make enough to satisfy the increased demand of consumers. NBC News previously reported that companies ranging from distilleries to luxury fashion conglomerate LVMH, stepped up, shifting their production to hand sanitizer to help curb the spread of coronavirus.
SKIP AHEAD Best hand sanitizers
Despite an influx of hand sanitizers on the market, not all options comply with guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When you don’t have ready access to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, the CDC recommends you use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least one of the following:
Related: UV sanitizers such as PhoneSoap are versatile. Beyond disinfecting your phone, you can sanitize face masks, keys and even your retainer.
In late June, NBC News reported the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned nine hand sanitizers may contain toxic methanol, a chemical that can cause skin irritation. According to the CDC, if methanol is ingested, it can cause headaches, dizziness and amnesia, among other dangerous side effects. A month later, NBC News reported the FDA expanded its hand sanitizer recall from nine brands to 75. “Unfortunately, there are some companies taking advantage of the increased usage of hand sanitizer during the coronavirus pandemic and putting lives at risk by selling products with dangerous and unacceptable ingredients,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, MD, in a statement. “Consumers and health care providers should not use methanol-containing hand sanitizers.”
To help you make sense of the recent developments in hand sanitizers, we asked MDs for their expert tips and guidance on how to buy safe and effective hand sanitizer. The doctors we consulted explain how hand sanitizer works, how long it takes to kill germs, what to consider when shopping for hand sanitizers — including ingredients to gravitate toward and those to stay away from — and more. You can shop their picks (which go beyond the usual suspects you find at your local pharmacy) right now from the comfort (and safety) of your home.
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Table of Contents
How does hand sanitizer really work?
Remember, the CDC advises you use alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent ethyl or 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. Why? According to Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York, “this percentage of alcohol is effective in killing bacteria and viruses on our hands. It works by denaturing the protective outer proteins of microbes and dissolving their membranes.”
It must be rubbed in completely and you must wait for it to dry before doing anything else with your hands.
How long does it take for hand sanitizer to kill germs?
Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon in New York, calls the wait time “a pretty quick process.” The CDC recommends rubbing your hands together for about 20 seconds after you apply hand sanitizer, allowing the formula to completely dry. The dry time is critical to increasing the efficacy of your hand sanitizer, according to the pros. “Rinsing or wiping off hand sanitizer can cause it to be less effective,” said Engelman. King agreed and added you should read the label of your hand sanitizer to ensure you’re using the directed amount. “[Hand sanitizer} must be rubbed in completely and you must wait for it to dry before doing anything else with your hands. This is the amount of time required,” she said. While dry times will vary from formula to formula, be patient while waiting for your sanitizer to dry for the best (and safest) results — it’s worth the additional seconds.
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How long is hand sanitizer effective?
Audrey Kunin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and CEO of DERMAdoctor, Inc., said hand sanitizers work for a “mere two minutes, but they are an important two minutes, killing potentially dangerous bacteria already present on the skin.” She added the two-minute period is why she recommends continual hand washing and frequent use of hand sanitizer throughout the day: Doing so helps with “ridding skin of new bacterial exposure.” Engelman concurred and said “those two minutes can mean the difference in transmitting germs or not.” In other words, hand sanitizer is not a preventative measure and only requires to help rid your hands of germs already on them, not the ones yet to come.
Kunin and King both noted it’s important to check the expiration date on your hand sanitizer because the alcohol content can evaporate over time. “Just like all over the counter (OTC) drugs, hand sanitizers have expiration dates,” said Kunin. King added hand sanitizer usually expire within three years after its manufacture date. “Once it drops below 60 percent alcohol, it won’t be as effective at killing germs,” King reminded.
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What else should you consider when shopping for hand sanitizers?
With the concerns about hand sanitizer safety and contamination, Engelman advised playing it safe and purchasing a hand sanitizer brand you know and trust or ones with “good reputations [that] have been on the market for a while.” Beyond the alcohol advisory from the CDC — at least 60 percent ethyl alcohol or at least 70 percent isopropyl alcohol — Engelman advised looking for hand sanitizers with hydrating ingredients, including aloe vera, which is “less harsh on your skin, especially as we’re all using [hand sanitizers] more these days,” she said.
Having championed the use of hand sanitizer, it’s important to note that, overall, medical experts we talked to agree with the FDA and CDC that washing your hands with soap and water is better than using hand sanitizer. However, the MDs point out, there is a time and place for hand sanitizer. Typically, it’s when you don’t have access to warm water and soap, like when you’re on the go and happen to sneeze, for example. If you want to buy hand sanitizer, consider the below options recommended by doctors and others whose listed features align with what MDs told us — and that are currently in stock and available to shop online right now.
Related: Medical experts and beauty editors recommend sunscreens that don’t leave a white cast on their melanin-rich skin.
Which hand sanitizer is best?
1. CBD for Life Hand Sanitizer
Engelman says she “loves” CBD for Life products and was “excited” when they debuted their hemp seed extract-infused hand sanitizers. They’re available in gel and spray formulas and come in various sizes — 1.7 ounces and 10 ounces– so you can pick what is most convenient for you. “These formulas contain 70 percent ethanol alcohol, so above the CDC requirements,” she adds.
CBD for LifeHand Sanitizing Gel
CBD for LifeHand Sanitizing Gel $5.50 at Dillards
2. Touchland Power Mist Hand Sanitizer
“These hand sanitizers are not only cute, but they also come in eight different fragrances like Watermelon, Aloe Vera and Mint so you don’t have to worry about the overpowering alcohol smell,” said Engelman. “They are formulated with aloe vera and essential oils to help keep the skin moisturized without leaving a sticky film.” Touchland hand sanitizer contains 67 percent ethyl alcohol, which is above the CDC requirement.
Touchland Power Mist Hydrating Hand Sanitizer
Touchland Power Mist Hydrating Hand Sanitizer $15.95 at Amazon
Touchland Power Mist Hydrating Hand Sanitizer $12.00 at Ulta
Touchland Power Mist Hydrating Hand Sanitizer $12.00 at Urban Outfitters
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3. EO Hand Sanitizer Lavender Gel
King said her personal favorite hand sanitizer is EO Hand Sanitizer Lavender Gel because she “loves the way it smells and its ingredients are safe: Alcohol sourced from non-GMO sugar cane, vegetable glycerin and jojoba seed oil.” There’s also glycerin and dimethicone, which together help hydrate and moisturize the skin, combating the drying effects of alcohol. The hand sanitizer isn’t just made with good-for-you ingredients, it also has a “wonderful fragrance” thanks to a blend of essential oils. If you’re sensitive to smells, opt for the Unscented version, which King said is “safer for eczema-prone skin or sensitized individuals.”
EO Hand Sanitizer Gel Lavender
EO Hand Sanitizer Gel Lavender $12.20 at Amazon
EO Hand Sanitizer Gel Lavender $7.64 at Vitacost
4. Stay Clean Moisturizing Hand Gel Sanitizer
King also recommended Stay Clean’s Moisturizing Hand Gel Sanitizer, which has 72 percent alcohol. “It contains soothing aloe and it’s fragrance-free,” she said. The CDC recommends using alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after visiting someone in the hospital or nursing home, “unless the person is sick with Clostridioides difficile (if so, use soap and water to wash hands).”
Stay Clean Hand Sanitizer Gel
Stay Clean Hand Sanitizer Gel $3.99 at Rite Aid
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5. Germ-X Hand Sanitizer
Harold Lancer, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills and founder of Lancer Skincare, recommended this affordable hand sanitizer. “I prefer soap and water, to tell you the truth, but if I had to pick, Germ-X is a great choice,” he said. “Made up of 70 percent ethyl alcohol, it will fight off germs and the novel COVID-19.” You can order a 32-ounce four-pack of Germ-X or an 8-ounce 12-pack to keep handy while running or swimming or during a socially-distanced picnic.
Germ-X Hand Sanitizer 32 Fluid Ounce (Pack of 4)
Germ-X Hand Sanitizer 32 Fluid Ounce (Pack of 4) $23.96 at Amazon
6. Mega Babe Squeaky Clean Hand Sanitizer
Mega Babe Squeaky Clean Hand Sanitizer is made with 62 percent ethyl alcohol to help kill bacteria. It’s free of problematic ingredients like synthetic fragrance, parabens, phthalates and sulfates. Instead, there are hydrating ingredients in it like aloe vera and marula and sweet almond oils, helping you avoid dry, cracked hands. The pocket-sized hand sanitizer, which has a light citrus scent, is convenient for when you’re on the go. If you prefer a larger size, consider the 16-ounce bottle of Squeaky Clean hand sanitizer with a pump to keep by your work-from-home desk for quick access.
MegaBabe Squeaky Clean Hand Sanitizer
MegaBabe Squeaky Clean Hand Sanitizer $6.00 at Ulta
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7. ClimbOn Hand Spray
70 percent ethyl alcohol in ClimbOn Hand Spray exceeds the CDC requirement. ClimbOn says their plant-based and cruelty-free hand sanitizer is safe for sensitive skin, too. There’s aloe vera gel in it, which helps soothe your skin, and MCT oil, which is rich in hydrating fatty acids. Lemon and clove oils help leave behind a light, refreshing scent.
ClimbOn Hand Spray
ClimbOn Hand Spray $5.95 at Amazon
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