Following official guidance, many of us stocked up on hand sanitizer to keep our hands clean and avoid being infected with coronavirus. But what you may not realize is, just as with soap and water, there are right ways and wrong ways to use it. (Before COVID-19, how many of us washed our hands for a full 20 seconds?) We asked experts to tell us the most common mistakes people make when using hand sanitizer.
1. You’re Not Washing Your Hands
When possible, washing your hands for 20 seconds is your best bet against germs. An impractical use of hand sanitizer is using it in replacement of soap and water, says Stephen Loyd – MD, chief medical director at JourneyPure. And remember that hand sanitizer can only do so much. Hand sanitizer should not be used for visibly soiled hands,” says Inna Husain, MD, an otolaryngologist in Chicago.
2. You’re Using It Wrong
Another mistake is that people don’t completely saturate their hands with hand sanitizer. They might only be covering the palms or the backs of their hands. It’s important to put it between your fingers, as well as under the nails, to distribute the sanitizer evenly. You want to apply hand sanitizer in the same way you would if you are washing your hands with soap.
3. You’re Overusing It
Hand sanitizers kill not only bad bacteria, but also communal good bacteria, which can be irritating to the skin, says Dr. Rhonda Kalasho, a double board-certified dentist in Los Angeles.
Hand sanitizer is much more drying for the hands than soap and water, so it’s easy to get dry skin from over-using hand sanitizer. People should moisturize their hands immediately after use, preferably with a cream.
4. You’re Using A Less Concentrated One
Hand sanitizer should have at least 60 percent alcohol. “The higher the concentration of alcohol, the more effective it will be.
5. You’re Keeping It Near Children
People need to keep hand sanitizer, especially nicely scented ones, out of the reach of young children, says Heather Finlay-Morreale – MD, a pediatrician in Sterling, Massachusetts. Young children can drink them and get poisoned.
6. You’re Not Letting It Dry
One common mistake people make when using hand sanitizer is that they fail to rub it in all the way. It’s important to continue to rub it into your skin until it dries.” Give hand sanitizer time to take effect. I have seen people squirt a small amount, then immediately touch their face. Give it at least a minute to dry.
7. You’re Contaminating Yourself Again
The sanitizer pump has been touched lots of times by people with unclean hands, says General Practitioner Dr. Giuseppe Aragona. It can harbor similar levels of germs to door handles, cash and ATM keypads. Pump with the side of your hand or fist, and don’t touch any part of the bottle after you’ve applied hand sanitizer.
8. You’re Making It Yourself
Because of panic buying, your local store might have run out of hand sanitizer. You may be tempted to create your own. Experts advise against it; it’s easy to mistakenly create a mixture that’s not strong enough to kill germs. I’ve seen people try and make sunscreen before, and the worst-case scenario was people being sunburned, says Dr. Giuseppe Aragona. With COVID-19, the worst-case scenario is death and infecting dozens of other people.
9. You’re Not Using Enough
Because of the hand sanitizer shortage, you may be tempted to use a smaller amount of sanitizer than usual to make it last longer. But that may not kill germs as expected. A common mistake is not applying the right amount, and not applying to both hands, says Magdalena Cadet – MD, a rheumatologist based in New York City. Don’t forget under fingernails and the back of the hand, as well as the entire palm.
10. You’re Panic Buying
Panic buying is purchasing a product in large quantities, fearing an upcoming shortage. If you stockpile hand sanitizer, you’re not allowing others to get the resources we all need to fight the virus.