The Ugly Side of Hand Sanitisers

Author: Ashley Scobie   Date Posted:6 March 2020 

Unless you live under a rock you would be aware that everyone is currently talking about COVID-19 aka coronavirus. Worldwide fear has lead to people strangely hoarding toilet paper (yes, that’s right, toilet paper), food and the almighty hand sanitiser’s. You may have noticed that many of your local pharmacies and health food stores shelves are lacking these items, especially hand sanitisers.


These germ-killing sanitisers usually come in an alcohol based gel and work because they contain high levels of alcohol which help kill off any germs or viruses. So, what’s not to love about them you may ask?



Well whilst you think they may be protecting you from these virisus they actually may be putting you at risk to other health risks? Especially young children. These cheap disinfectants have been heavily scrutinised in recent times for their harmful impact on adults, as well as children.


“Many caregivers are unaware of the very high alcohol content present in alcohol-based hand sanitisers, which can contain up to 60% to 95% alcohol,” says Cynthia Santos, MD, from CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health.


Greene Shepherd, PharmD, clinical professor at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy says that younger children are far more susceptible to these adverse effects as there is not as much glycogen in their liver. Through a study of over 70,669 exposures of young children, Shepherd found that the most common types of health effects from alcohol based hand sanitisers were:



cough and

abdominal pains.


Other health effects (rare, but can happen) include coma, seizure, respiratory depression, hypoglycaemia and metabolic acidosis.


Not only do they oppose these nasty adverse health risks but they aren’t even the most effective way to clean your hands.


Firstly, for a hand sanitiser to actually work it MUST contain over 60% of alcohol. Anything less and its basically just an expensive bottle of goop.


If your hand sanitiser does contain over 60% of alcohol then it can provide protection from viruses. However, if your hands are dirty before putting on your hand sanitiser it makes it hard for the sanitiser to actually penetrate and work. So again, it’s just an expensive bottle of goop.


Now for all of our hippy lovings friends out there who are thinking “well I’ll just make my own using some vodka!” - keep in mind that most vodkas typically contain only 40% alcohol, which means, you guessed it! It’s just another expensive bottle of goop that you’d be better off drinking !


Due to this, soap still reigns supreme when killing off diseases and keeping off viruses. In fact many heath authorities such as U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention only recommend soap. CDC along with many other authorities recommend washing your hands with warm or cold water and then lathering a good quality soap for 20 seconds on the back of hands, between fingers and under nails for the best prevention from diseases.




So in conclusion, ditch the sanitisers and just use that good old fashioned bar of soap. We live in a very privileged country which means that we all have access to water. So just carry around one a soap bar or a travel size Liquid Soap and you can wash your hands on the go.


0% chance of adverse health effects and better protection.




1. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017. doi: mm6608a5

2. Bonner, L. (2017). CDC report calls attention to hand sanitizer risk in children. Pharmacy Today. Hand Hygiene. Retirved from: 

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