Will hand sanitizer do the job?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The halls are now populated with dozens of hand sanitizer stations dispensing the clear liquid that is supposed to save you from a debilitating week of missed classes resulting from swine flu.

It seems self-explanatory what a hand sanitizer should do for you – sanitize your hands; in other words, get rid of all the germs. This is what many hand sanitizers do, but there are some that actually create an environment where bacteria and those “bad germs” can multiply and spread.

The CDC has said that for a hand sanitizer to be effective it must have at least 60 percent alcohol content. This is not always the case with some of the cheaper sanitizers.

DSC_0314 small copySanitizer, if it meets the CDC criteria can be effective in killing the flu virus. But there is something else that may influence your decision to use sanitizers and to what extent: What else does that precious liquid kill on your hands and does killing it change the way your body responds to sickness-causing germs?

Just as putting our wonderfully strong white blood cells – which are responsible for identifying and killing the bad bacteria and germs in our body – into a Petri dish with hand sanitizer would kill them, there are natural defenses on our skin that also die when placed in contact with sanitizers. These germs actually protect against other common, but far worse bacteria that can be found on the epidermis. Removing this protective shield may actually make you more susceptible.

Experts have noted that this may or may not be a negative thing. But, seeing that everything dies when we use hand sanitizers, let’s hope that the bad germs don’t come back faster than the good ones. If that were the case we would basically be clearing the “handscape” for pesky bad germ residents. Avoiding the flu may come at the price of catching something else.

Hand sanitizer isn’t the only culprit. Antibacterial soap is perhaps even more problematic. Very few people wash their hands long enough for the antibacterial effects to actually work, and on top of that, the general consensus among those scientists who nerdily, but thankfully, study these kinds of things is that adding antimicrobial chemicals to soap does not improve the germ-ravaging effects already inherent in soap. In other words, you’d do just as well with a (pleasantly moisturizing) bar of Dove.

In addition, the common antimicrobials placed in hand soap have detrimental effects in and of themselves. One has an effect similar to testosterone. If people start getting hairier in the next few decades, we will know why.

If you come in contact with a deadly strain of flu when you don’t have your handy sanitizer with you, there will certainly be a dispenser of sanitizer or soap nearby. But be forewarned: It comes at a cost.W