How Does Hand Sanitizer Work and What Are Its Benefits?

How Does Hand Sanitizer Work and What Are Its Benefits?

Without realizing it, we perform actions every day that expose our hands – one of the most socially communicative parts of our body. From contact with surfaces like public restroom doors to simple handshakes, we encounter bacteria, dirt and plenty of possible infections. That’s why it is important to protect yourself from contamination! While it’s always ideal to wash your hands often, with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds, it’s not always possible to get to a sink quickly. In these situations, hand sanitizer acts as a great alternative.

In the past few months, you may have heard that the purchase of hand sanitizer gel has increased significantly due to the fear of Coronavirus and COVID-19 infection. That’s because when you’re on the go, whether it be at work, running errands or in social situations, the convenience of hand sanitizer is invaluable – it’s very portable and helps to keep you safe from bacteria.

What Is Hand Sanitizer?

Hand Sanitizers are solutions based on alcoholic derivatives which, when applied on the hands, cleanse without the need to use water to rinse and dry them.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a good sanitizer contains denatured ethyl alcohol ranging from 60-85%, capable of evaporating quickly in contact with the air, neutralizing bacteria and some viruses from the surface of the hands.

For increased effectiveness, you want to look for a product that is defined on the label as medical-grade, the formulation of which also contains disinfectants (germicides and bactericides) that perform an antiseptic function.

How Does Hand Sanitizers Work?

Hand Sanitizers perform the main function of ensuring good hand hygiene in all those situations where they cannot be washed.

They are a particularly practical solution, as a small quantity of hand sanitizer evenly distributed on the hands and left to dry is enough to obtain immediate protection against the spread of germs and bacteria on their surface. These hand sanitizers are designed to be used only on the hands, not to clean other parts of the body or objects, for which specific products exist.

The duration of effectiveness depend on the conditions in which you are and how much (and how) you use your hands; in principle, it’s not recommended to apply with excessive frequency, as the alcoholic composition can sensitize and redden the skin.

According to the CDC, cleansing with soap and water remains, in any case, the most effective method for deeply sanitizing the hands (especially if they are visually dirty). But as a travel-friendly alternative, WHO and CDC both state that the best hand sanitizers are those that are alcohol-based, in a concentration of at least 60%. Remember, however, that by washing our hands with alcoholic products we can have problems related to the dryness of the skin. For this reason, it is important that the hand sanitizers also contain moisturizing products, such as glycerin, to nourish as well as sanitize.

Benefits of Hand Sanitizer

A high-quality hand sanitizer gives you the ability to thoroughly sanitize without water. It is sufficient, in fact, to use a small amount of hand sanitizer on the skin, without needing to rinse.

Remember that sanitizers often help to reduce the number of germs, bacteria, viruses, and molds – but they don’t eliminate them completely. Also, they are certainly not suitable for cleaning very dirty hands. In these cases, always remember to use soap and warm water. In addition, hand sanitizers should only be used if there is a real need for them, since frequent use can have skin-drying effects.

Here are a few occasions where hand sanitizer could be beneficial to have on-hand:

  • when traveling, whenever you take public transportation such as planes, trains, subways or buses
  • away from home during an excursion: if you eat something on the street or after touching products in a shop, for example
  • after using a public restroom, changing a diaper, throwing out trash or touching shoes
  • before treating a wound, taking medicine and after coming into contact with a sick or injured person
  • every time you blow your nose, cough or sneeze
  • after having had contact with an animal

How to Properly Apply Hand Sanitizer

To properly sanitize the hands, a small amount of product must be applied to the palm. Then, massage one hand against the other to distribute from the back to the wrist, between the fingers and interdigital spaces, and nails.

Rub until the product is completely dry to get 99.9% of the bacteria removed from the surface of the hands. Prior to cleansing, it is recommended to remove rings and bracelets.

Hand sanitizing gel does not require rinsing. In fact, washing your hands after applying the gel cancels its effectiveness. Using any sort of cream or lotion immediately afterward can have the same effect.


As you can see, hand sanitizer acts as a useful alternative to help eliminate bacteria and prevent the spread of germs when washing hands isn’t possible. In less than a minute, you can disinfect your hands no matter where you are!