During the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for hand sanitizers has grown substantially over the past couple of years. Moreover, most places of mass gathering of people have been equipped with these means of protection to create all possible conditions for improving the epidemiological situation. Hand sanitizing is aimed at combating viruses on the hands and is designed to prevent harmful microorganisms from getting on the face and mucous membranes. Despite the potential benefits of these disinfectants, their use is associated with some controversial issues, and they have both advantages and disadvantages.
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One of the main advantages of hand sanitizers as personal protective equipment is their ease of use. A special solution is easy to apply and does not require constant access to water and soap to disinfect the surface of the hands (3). These antiseptic products are readily available and can be utilized anywhere, whether at home or in the workplace. Moreover, alcohol, which is often found in these sanitizers, is a reliable means of removing any microorganisms from the surface of the hands, acting more effectively than regular soap.
At the same time, too frequent use of disinfectants can be hazardous to the skin of the hands. One of the common problems for people who use hand sanitizers too often is dermatitis that develops with dry skin (2). Alcohol, which is part of such solutions, kills pathogens; however, it also dries out the skin, making the top layer vulnerable to wind damage or sudden temperature changes (2). As a result, the skin is threatened with the development of bacterial infections in the affected areas, which contradicts the basic idea of using hand sanitizers.
Another controversial aspect of the use of hand sanitizers for personal use is the absorption of alcohol into the skin. Ethanol, which is one of the key components of such disinfectants, does not completely evaporate from the surface of the hands, and part of it enters the skin (1). This, in turn, raises concerns among people about the possibility of utilizing sanitizers by children, patients taking antibiotics, or those who are contraindicated to ingest alcohol into the body. However, this fact is disputed by the finding that the absorption of alcohol by the skin takes place in quantities that are pharmacologically insignificant and do not pose an additional threat to health (1). Therefore, the risks of getting a dangerous dose of alcohol through the use of a hand sanitizer are eliminated.
When speaking of sanitizers not only in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic but in a broader sense, one should note that their use may be unjustified in some situations. For instance, such disinfectants are not able to remove traces of chemicals or heavy metals from hands, and in these cases, soap and water are more effective (3). Thus, their purpose is narrow and is aimed exclusively at preventing viral diseases.
While summarizing all of the above, one can conclude that hand sanitizers are indeed associated with controversial aspects and have both positive and negative properties. Despite the ease of use and effective removal of harmful microorganisms from the surface of the hands, alcohol in these solutions dries the skin. In addition, sanitizers fail to cope with all types of contamination without exception, although, as personal protective equipment, their application is justified. Therefore, this is crucial to consider all the aforementioned factors when using such disinfectants.
Brewer, C., & Streel, E. (2020). Is alcohol in hand sanitizers absorbed through the skin or lungs? Implications for disulfiram treatment. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 55(4), 354-356. Web.
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Jing, J. L. J., Pei Yi, T., Bose, R. J., McCarthy, J. R., Tharmalingam, N., & Madheswaran, T. (2020). Hand sanitizers: A review on formulation aspects, adverse effects, and regulations. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(9), 3326. Web.
Kumar, S., & Das, A. (2021). Hand sanitizers: Science and rationale. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, 87(2), 309-314. Web.