Hand Sanitizers. Is Higher In Proof Really Better?

Everyone is worried, panicked, stressed and anxiety is high due to COVID 19, and rightfully so. Our communities have been turned sideways. People are dying, kids are shut out from their social interactions and learning. So many have lost income, small businesses are having to close their doors. We wear masks and gloves whenever going anywhere in public and washing our hands is more important than it is ever been.

I hadn’t thought of writing a blog about hand sanitizers. I mean, why? What’s the point? FOR THE LOVE! It’s only hand sanitizer. Then I came across an IG (Instagram) post from a beauty company that, by the way, makes hand sanitizer using 190 – 200 proof alcohol… Anyway, they took some time to write a lengthy post about misinformation on hand sanitizers. Specifically, the false claims around the alcohol content; higher is better. As I read through this post, I got a little perturbed. 

I mean, look, I am all for helping to educate and raise awareness around clean ingredients, Earth-friendly practices; high vibe skincare, high vibe living, BUT whoa… Slow those breaks.

I got curious when they brought science into the mix, so I did what I always do… I started researching… Again, because, you see, we researched the first time and I mean A LOT. If we are going to do something, we are going to do it with as much reliable information as we can find. Using the right ingredients that are not only impactful but also healthy is critical. AND the reality is using any alcohol on our skin is not ideal. Under normal circumstances, I would advise against using any type of hand sanitizer for several reasons, but COVID-19 is not a normal circumstance and effective hand sanitizer is in a different category.

Ok, so here is the scoop, based on our findings, about hand sanitizers…

First, handwashing (for at least 20 seconds with warm or cold water) is the best and most effective way to kill germs. Let me say that again… Handwashing with water for 20 seconds is the best and most effective way to kill germs. Hand sanitizers are to be used when soap and water are not available to wash your hands. This is being drilled into our brains, we all got it. Now, moving on….

Hand sanitizer is usually made with at least 60% isopropyl or rubbing alcohol. Due to the public health crisis from COVID-19, traditional hand sanitizers and rubbing alcohol/isopropyl have been scarce or completely unavailable. So, the FDA has a temporary policy in place and does not intend to take action against alcohol production firms that manufacture ethanol or ethyl alcohol for the use in hand sanitizers. Additionally, this alcohol should be at least 94.9% by volume (or Abv).

Now, why are these numbers important? Because according to studies sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60–95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers. For ethanol to meet the 60% concentration, it needs to be 120 proof. Regular 80 proof vodka will not disinfect, but it will taste rather delicious in a tonic!

OK, let’s dig deeper into the reason I took you on this journey. If you are buying a homemade, handcrafted, artisan hand sanitizer or cleanser (this would be a rub-in not wash off) you want to make sure the proof is at least 120 (or 60% to be effective). The stated “misinformation” in the post was that the higher the alcohol content the more effective the hand sanitizer… So is 140 (70%) better than 120 (60%)? 

Well, alcohol solutions containing 60% (120 proof) - 95% (190 proof) alcohol are proven to be most effective. It is also true that concentrations higher than this range are less potent because proteins are not denatured easily in the absence of water. BUT, a study showing higher concentrations within the effective range was better at killing germs, and also the alcohol concentration gets diluted when other ingredients are added, so to keep the sanitizer or rub-in within the effective range, dilution must be considered. 

So, what’s true? Well, we know the minimum is 60%/120 proof and the maximum is 95%/190 proof, so regardless if a company makes a statement that their higher content is better (please understand we do not agree with false claims), you know that the effective range for germ-killing hand sanitizer/rub-in is 60%/120 proof and the maximum is 95%/190 proof. So, if you come across a brand that has a higher alcohol proof within the effective range it is possible it will work better. If it is higher and outside of the range deemed effective, then we recommend you not apply it to your skin; not only has it been proven to be non-effective, but it can also damage your skin cells. 

Love & light to you and your skin!

Tara Raj, CPC, ACC, CNWC
Skincare Consultant

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