Hand sanitiser not ideal on its own

23 February 2018 - 10:54
Hand sanitiser is no substitute for soap and water.
Hand sanitiser is no substitute for soap and water.
Image: 123rf/ Chris Elwell

Landlords take note - hand sanitiser is not designed to be used as a complete substitute for hand washing with soap and water.

As South Africa’s second-largest city faces the prospect of its taps running dry in May‚ Euromonitor International has predicted that the liquid soaps and gels category - which includes hand sanitisers - will enjoy double-digit volume growth in South African this year as a result.

“Retailers and shopping malls have been proactively doing their part through actively raising awareness about water scarcity in malls‚ turning off taps in restrooms and replacing them with sanitiser and using grey water for sanitation‚” the company said.

Capetonian Luisa de Oliviera told ConsumerLive she had major concerns about the growing number of public toilets in the city which had disconnected all their taps‚ with hand sanitiser being the only means of hand cleansing.

“The correct usage is to wash hands first and then use a sanitiser as an added precaution‚” she said.

“A medical doctor told me he is starting to see patients with skin infections because when sanitiser is used without washing hands first‚ the bacteria get protected by the hand sanitiser and the ‘trapped’ bacteria can cause skin infections.”

Using one or two squirts of hand sanitiser was not enough to fully clean hands‚ de Oliveira said. “It especially doesn’t remove dirt under finger nails. It’s a very unhygienic practice and could potentially contribute to outbreaks of disease.

“As a consumer I would like all public places to have at least one working tap.”

Cape Town International Airport recently did just that in its toilet areas. Most of the taps have been switched off and hand sanitiser dispensers have been installed‚ leaving just one tap operational.

Prof Pieter Gouws of Stellenbosch University‚ who has a PhD in food microbiology‚ said De Oliveira’s concerns were spot on.

“Ideally‚ one needs to wash hands in the conventional way first‚ before using sanitiser‚” he said. “I must also stress that using antibacterial soaps could be dangerous in the long run. “Washing your hands with normal soap is as effective as using antibacterial soaps‚ which should only be used in environments with high loads of pathogenic bacteria‚ such as hospitals‚ day care centres and food establishments."

That’s because sanitisers and antibacterial soaps disrupt the natural microbial flora of human skin and could result in infections or allergic reactions‚ Gouws said.

The US-based Centre of Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) advises that while alcohol-based hand sanitisers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands‚ they do not eliminate all types of germs‚ and are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

The CDC recommends the use of hand sanitiser with an alcohol content of at least 60%.