2 Important Things About Alcohol In Hand Sanitizers - You Should Know
Every time I pick up a hand sanitizer, I’d turn to read the label. It’s probably an occupational habit that has developed over the past 15 years dealing with manufacturers. Just like when I pick up any skincare, this habit is something you should consider practising.
Take the nearest sanitizer to you and you’d see that the first ingredient is none other than the active germ-killing agent “alcohol”.
A 2020 review of alcohol based hand sanitizers found that sanitizers with 60% to 95% alcohol kill germs most effectively, when 2.4ml of hand sanitizer was applied for 25 to 30 secs.
But, have you wondered:
- What type of alcohol is used in your alcohol hand sanitizers?
- Is 70% alcohol sanitizers better than 80% alcohol ones?
- Why do your hands feel dryer recently?
3 Types of alcohol used in hand sanitizer
It is found that alcohol has been used as hand sanitizer since 1888 and the disinfecting qualities of ethanol and isopropanol are well-proven.
While isopropanol if synthetically produced, ethanol can be derived via fermentation or synthetically.
How does the process affect the quality of the alcohol? Which is better?
Let’s discuss each of the alcohols and be more informed about what we are putting into our hands.
Here’s the list of the types of alcohol that are found in hand sanitizers, and also the optimal recommended percentage for effective and safe sanitizing.
1.1 Pure Ethanol or Grain Alcohol:
This is the best grade of ethanol that is produced via the fermentation and distillation process of starch-based crops, like wheat.
This grade of ethanol is used mainly in consumable goods like beer, wine, vinegar, cosmetics (lotions, perfumes), pharmaceuticals.
Lilaroze’s moisturizing hand sanitizer uses this grade of ethanol, combined with glycerin for more comforting cleanse. It is chosen for its purity, although it definitely cost more than synthetic ethanol or isopropanol.
1.2 Synthetic Ethanol:
Derived from synthetic processes using ethylene, a petroleum by-product.
It contains impurities and is more commonly used in the fuel industry. The alcoholic beverage industry has generally agreed not to use synthetic ethanol beverages, due to the presence of impurities.
For hand sanitizers, it is permissible under Temporary Policy if it meets the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or Food Chemicals Codex (FCC) grade.
The most common hand sanitizers use IPA, aka 2-propanol or rubbing alcohol. You can surely find a bottle with this content at home.
IPA is chemically derived and the biggest advantage is low cost of manufacture.
There are many grades of IPA of which most widely used being industrial grade IPA for cleaning disinfectant within pharmaceutics, hospitals, cleanrooms and electronics or medical device manufacturing.
For hand sanitizers, some countries like Canada specify the purity of IPA that should be used in producing this specific type of alcohol sanitizer.
But as consumers, we really do not know what grade, purity, concentration is used, especially when there are no strict labelling requirements. It is really up to the onus of the manufacturer to use the best for us.
Compare : Ethanol vs Isopropanol
These two alcohols have similar structures, but their chemical variations make one drinkable and one dangerous to ingest.
When it comes to hand sanitizer, they work the same way: They both disrupt the proteins and lipids in viruses and bacteria, which kills those germs.
Ethanol, the most common alcohol ingredient, appears to be the most effective alcohol against viruses. Isopropanol is considered more effective against bacteria. Hence, the combination of alcohols may also have a synergistic effect.
In terms of evaporation factor for the comfort of our skin, ethanol is slightly more dehydrating. Though isopropanol evaporates more quickly, it doesn't dry out our hands so badly.
Either choice, moisturizing ingredients ought to be added to give us a more effective and comfortable user experience.
Due to the recent surge of demand for hand sanitizers, some manufacturers turned to using methanol, which is unacceptable due to the toxic effects!
In June 2020, FDA in USA tested and found methanol contamination in some hand sanitizers.
Methanol is a toxic substance that can be life-threatening when absorbed through skin or ingested. This toxic alcohol is used industrially as a solvent, pesticide and alternative fuel source.
Significant high exposure to methanol can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, while ingestion can result in coma, permanent damage to the nervous system and death.
Sad to say, at least 9 hand sanitizers have been found with methanol which should be disposed immediately.
FDA has requested Eskbiochem, one of the manufacturers to remove their toxic hand sanitizers from the market, but they choose not to react swiftly! This indicates that we consumers need to learn to protect ourselves by reading labels and buying from reliable sources only.
In Singapore, the Healthy Science Authority (HSA) also recalled 18 sanitizers (between Feb-Apr 2021) that are detected with acetaldehyde and/or methanol at levels above the pharmaceutical pharmacopoeia limit. The full details here.
Now we understand that the best hand sanitizers should use grain alcohol or purer form of isopropanol. How about the % of alcohol that it should have?
The optimal % of alcohol in hand sanitizer
The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol to do the job.
But isn’t more better? Why not go all the way to 100%?
This is because 100% alcohol is actually less effective at killing the bacteria and viruses!
The fact is, alcohol evaporates.
So at higher concentrations, they evaporate very quickly, maybe even before it penetrates the virus’ outer walls. By adding water, which evaporates more slowly than alcohol, it means that alcohol can linger longer on your hands and sanitize better.
To enhance the effect further, adding other ingredients like hydrogen peroxide and glycerin will make the solution even more effective.
Hence, Lilaroze’s hand sanitizers are added with glycerin to allow the organic ethanol to linger, take effect and moisturize. These two pocket hand sanitizers are also added with fragrance from organic origin, leaving your hands beautifully scented.
For the best quality assurance, choose alcohol based hand sanitizers that are:
- formulated with purer forms of ethanol or isopropanol
- contains 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol enhanced with moisturizing ingredients
While quick cleansing with alcohol sanitizer is convenient, washing hands with soap is still the no.1 way to kill and remove bacteria and viruses.
Do you think regulations should be enforced to ensure that only pure forms of ethanol or isopropanol are used in hand sanitizers for the safety of consumers?