What you need to know about alcohol-based hand disinfection in times of COVID-19


The worldwide crisis due to COVID-19 that we have seen in the past months is unprecedented - besides the rush for basic supplies like food, infection control items, such as alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR) has become a highly sought after commodity by many. But this raises an important question for the customers: Which alcohol-based hand rub do I need and which is really effective against COVID-19?

Dr. Thomas Oh, Medical Affairs Manager (APAC) from schülke Singapore will answer this and provide the essential information which you (as a buyer) should look out for to make sure you are buying the right product for good hand hygiene against COVID-19.

Why is it important to use alcohol-based hand rub to prevent infections?

Dr. Thomas Oh: Alcohol in the hand rub remains the main active ingredient to eliminate the microorganisms. Besides its rapid killing action, the fast drying time is also a main plus when it comes to hand sanitizing - you wouldn't want to have wet hands for a long time. Water dries more slowly than alcohol on the skin and since many non-alcohol hand rubs contain water, they dry more slowly on the hands.

Without alcohol as the main antimicrobial agent, alcohol-free hand rub will need other active(s) as a substitute. Most substitutes (e.g. chlorhexidine, benzalkonium chloride etc.) are antimicrobial but with a much slower efficacy compared to alcohol.

ABHR remains the much preferred option for the majority in COVID-19 unless the user is allergic to alcohol, which is very rare. But for this cohort maybe the best option is to wash their hands with a gentle soap to maintain hand hygiene.

What should I look for when buying alcohol-based hand rub?

Dr. Thomas Oh: The formulation of ABHR is considered critical as both antimicrobial agents and other critical components (e.g. moisturiser) have to work in tandem without compromising the chemistry within. Most if not all of the ABHR from hygiene companies like schülke have undergone a series of stringent tests to make sure the final product is performing as what it should be doing - to eliminate microbes on the hands. An important advantage is that they are formulated with skin caring ingredients (and dermatologically tested) to protect and care for the hands when used at high frequency especially in this pandemic period.

How do I know which alcohol-based hand rub has the needed efficacy against bacteria and/or viruses?

Dr. Thomas Oh: Look out for the indication of European Norm (EN) test standards, such as EN1500 and/or EN12791 test on the labels which most of the more reputable ABHR would have undergone to ensure that the ABHR are efficacious against bacteria when applied onto the hands. As for the efficacy against enveloped viruses, such as those which cause COVID-19, EN 14476 is the test standard to look out for.

Is there an alternative if no EN tested alcohol-based hand rub is available?

Dr. Thomas Oh: If you don't have access to good quality handrub, the very least you have to make sure is that the ABHR you buy has the right concentration of alcohol within, 60-70% alcohol (commonly ethanol/isopropanol) is the concentration shown to be effective against enveloped viruses, such as those that cause COVID-19. The right percentage of alcohol is crucial for eliminating the SARS-CoV-2 virus when applied onto the hands.

Last but not least, if ABHR is not within your reach, hand washing will always be an equally viable alternative – remember to use a gentle soap (e.g. sensiva® wash lotion) and proper hand drying is equally important as well.

Stay safe! Keep your hands and surrounding surfaces clean, do not touch your face unnecessarily and adhere to social distancing!

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