Now of days, just about everyone carries around a container of hand sanitizer in their pockets or purses. Meanwhile, most public restrooms have their pumps filled with antibacterial soaps. This idea that we must “protect” ourselves at all times from the dangers of bacteria, may actually be hindering our health. Yes, it is important to be clean and mindful of our hygiene, however, there is no need to go overboard by using antibacterial every five minutes of the day. Learn about the ways you can sufficiently have proper hygiene without experiencing the harmful side effects of overuse.
Hand sanitizers usually contain an alcohol, usually ethanol, which kills both microbes and bacteria. Researchers at Johns Hopkins actually claim that these sanitizers are better at killing microbes than antibacterial and plain soaps. Another perk is the fact that sanitizers absorb extremely quickly and that makes it so that bacteria have a limited amount of exposure. This limited exposure makes it less likely that the bacteria will become resistant. The other thing is that most hand sanitizers work by use of the alcohols and not antibiotics, so microbes and bacteria that are killed off, will still be susceptible to antibiotics.
The risk of utilizing hand sanitizers arises when using antibacterial versions. The antibacterial ingredients kill off the good bacteria (probiotics) along with the bad ones, so you can see how overuse can be problematic. Probiotics help to fight off everyday bacteria that are harmful, making it that much easier for your body to handle infections.
It is important to differentiate between those antibacterial soaps that are purchased by consumers vs. those used in doctor’s offices and hospitals. For the purposes of this article, we will be discussing only the consumer versions. Research on the use of antibacterial soaps shows that they are just as effective in preventing bacterial diseases as plain soap and have the further advantage of being less likely to cause resistance to antibiotics. While claims like “Kills 99% of bacteria” may be alluring to many consumers, the truth is that proper washing with regular soap can sufficiently do the trick as well.
When antibacterial agents are present, the bacteria that are naturally present in our bodies tend to change in order to adapt to their presence. They do this in attempt to survive the antibiotics and escape being destroyed. While some of these bacteria do successfully escape and survive, others die off from the antibiotic. The ones that make it end up becoming even stronger, now that they have mutated into sturdier bacteria ( sometimes call “superbugs”). These resistant strains of bacteria then multiply in numbers, which can become problematic when someone truly is ill and needs a prescribed antibiotic to work. Antibacterial soaps and sanitizers come into play because the overuse of them may trigger this phenomenon to occur.
Research has shown that alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not increase the likelihood of antibacterial resistance in people. A study from the Consumer Education and Research Society (CERS) has indicated that traditional use of soap and water works just as well, if not better than antibacterial hand sanitizers, in fighting off germs, all while preventing the possibility of conceiving superbugs or antibiotic resistant strains. Other studies similarly suggest that hand sanitizers should not be used in place of, but rather in conjunction with hand washing.
Hand sanitizers can be incredibly convenient when used properly. First off, you should purchase a brand that is at least 60% alcohol-based. When you are using the product, you should cover your entire hands and rub together until dry. Soap and water is recommended when you have any visible dirt on your hands. Hand washing is also very effective and when in doubt, washing your hands properly will never hurt. Some instances where you will absolutely want to wash your hands over using a hand sanitizer are the following: after going to the bathroom, changing a diaper, before and after cooking, touching an ill or infected person or body part, etc. For proper hand washing, you will want to work up a lather and wash and rub for at least 60 seconds before rinsing. One of the most under-estimated parts of hand washing is drying. Drying your hands completely will ensure that you are less susceptible from attracting further bacteria.
There are plenty of opportunities to cleanse your hands and depending on the circumstance, you may find that using a hand sanitizer over traditional washing may be more convenient and useful for you. Of course you could always live off of strictly hand washing if you wanted to, but using alcohol-based hand sanitizers is a great option for instances where you may not be near a sink. The fear of antibacterial resistance should not hold you back from using them. Simply follow some of the guidelines and advice to better understand your options and decide which hygiene method works best for you.