Hand Washing Vs Hand Sanitizer

What’s the best way to keep hands clean and healthy? We take a look at whether washing hands or using sanitiser is the better option.

Hand sanitiser pros

Hand sanitiser works by dismantling the fatty bonds that hold viruses or bacteria together; the alcohol it contains dissolves the structure and neutralises the germs, so they can’t harm you.

Sanitiser is quick, effective, and useful if you’re on the go and can’t access running water.

Some sanitisers include moisturising agents like glycerin or aloe vera to help mitigate against the drying effects of the alcohol on the skin.

Hand sanitiser cons

The sanitiser needs to contain at least 60% alcohol in order to work; some brands don’t have enough alcohol to be effective.
Sanitiser doesn’t ‘clean’ hands and doesn’t work if germs are trapped in or under grease, so if your skin is oily, greasy, sweaty, or has hand cream on, your sanitiser won’t neutralise viruses.

Frequent use of hand sanitiser can exacerbate eczema, because the alcohol (and any preservatives, dyes, perfumes it might also contain) is doing a similar thing to the oily bonds in your epidermis as it does to the germs, and can end up damaging your skin barrier.
Alcohol-based sanitisers are not effective against all germs, ie the norovirus.

Hand washing pros

Hand washing involves using soap and warm water, rubbing hands together with soap under a running tap. It works in two ways to combat germs.

  1. Soap or detergent acts to dismantle the bonds of the virus or bacteria (much as alcohol does), rendering it ineffective.
  2. The soap binds to dirt/grease on your skin and allows it to be flushed away down the drain; the tiny virus particles which are stuck in the grease get washed away as well, whether they’ve been neutralised or not.

This two-prong attack means that washing with soap and water is highly effective against germs, if done properly.

You don’t need to use highly alkaline bar soap if your skin can’t tolerate it; anything that foams up (washing up liquid, shampoo, soap-free hand wash, Balmonds Natural Shampoo & Body Wash) will work.

Hand washing cons

Hand washing needs to be done efficiently, with every surface of both hands covered in soap, rubbed together for at least 20 seconds.

You need to be able to access running water, in order to sluice away the detergent and germs.
Water plus detergent can have the same effect on skin as alcohol, stripping away natural protective oils and increasing the risk of eczema flares and dry skin. 

This can be mitigated by making sure you dry your hands thoroughly, and apply a moisturiser afterwards, either a rich cream like Balmonds Intensive Hand Cream or, if your skin is cracked and sore, a balm like Balmonds Skin Salvation.

Hand washing Vs hand sanitizer conclusion

Both hand sanitiser and hand washing have their benefits and disadvantages, especially for people with eczema, whose skin can react to soap, contact with water and sanitiser!

Hand washing is the more efficient way of protecting yourself from germs, but hand sanitiser is a good substitute if you aren’t near running water and soap, and if your hands are otherwise clean. Just remember to look after your skin after washing or sanitising, to mitigate the irritating effects of the products.

Read our blogs Top Tips For Treating Over-Washed Hands and Is Hand Sanitiser Safe For Eczema? for some ideas about keeping your skin healthy while keeping them clean.

Recommended products:

Balmonds 70% Hand Sanitiser Gel.

Balmonds Natural Shampoo & Body Wash
with calendula & chamomile

Balmonds Intensive Hand Cream
with shea butter and sea buckthorn oil


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