Health Corner: Purell No Substitute for Soap and Water

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The Health Corner makes an emergency return this semester to clear myths and misconceptions about new hand sanitizers around campus. First, applause for USF administrators, clearly avid Health Corner readers, for taking this momentous step toward a healthy campus.

It is true hand sanitizers are not a mirror substitute for soap and water.  But they do not promote the spread of germs by allowing those not killed by the sanitizer to mutate into a sort of “super germ,” as some believe.  That’s just silly.

According to the Centers for Disease control, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are effective in killing fungus, bacteria, and viruses as long as hands are not “visibly soiled.”  Alcohol does not effectively cut through grime, so dirt, blood, feces, or other bodily fluids have to be washed off with soap and water before the sanitizers can be effective.  According to Elaine Larson, professor of pharmaceutical and therapeutic research at Columbia’s nursing school, sanitizers must contain at least 60% alcohol to be effective at all.  Purell, the hand-sanitizer brand used in USF dispensers, contains 62% ethyl alcohol.

Purell claims their product “kills 99.9% of germs,” but don’t be naïve and take their numbers to heart.  Get real with yourself.  You know darn well whether or not your hands are clean.

The biggest criticism of alcohol-based hand sanitizers is that they leave skin dry.  What makes Purell popular is that it has moisturizers in it so that it does not give you flaky or dry skin.  I ran to the bottom floor of Phelan just before writing this for one last test, and my hands are clean, soft and flake-free as we speak.   The reason, in addition to the moisturizer, is that alcohol evaporates completely in a short time.

Once the alcohol has evaporated though, the party is over.  No flaky skin, but no super, all-day cleaning power either, which means you will have to drench your hands with Purell several times to really get those paws squeaky clean. But if you want to kill all your hand germs, go wash your hands.

4 COMMENTS

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  3. “but no super, all-day cleaning power either,”

    Does soap and water do this “all day cleaning” power thing ?

    Also “drench” seems a bit of an exageration for using what , 5ml of Purell .

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