Why You Probably Don’t Need To Use So Much Hand Sanitizer

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
There are a lot of great things about hand sanitizer — especially if you're stuck on public transportation for more than, like, 30 seconds. But, according to a new video from AsapSCIENCE, we probably don't need it as much as we think we do. As the video explains, most hand sanitizers use alcohol to kill bacteria and even a few viruses. Those that don't contain alcohol use other chemicals (including the ever-controversial triclosan) to get the job done. These products are especially helpful if soap and water aren't available, like when you notice a concerning amount of grime on the subway pole you've been clutching for the last 20 minutes. But do you really need to use sanitizer if you have the option to actually wash your hands instead? According to the results of a 2009 study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, probably not. In that study, participants who washed their hands with soap and water had fewer bacteria on their skin than those who used hand sanitizer. That's because, although alcohol-based hand sanitizer kills the bacteria, washing your hands also removes those little microbes from your skin entirely. And washing your hands is especially useful for getting rid of some types of bacteria, such as norovirus and C. diff, that hand sanitizer doesn't kill. Plus, you don't even have to worry about getting "antibacterial" soap — your regular old bar will do the trick. There is some concern about the use of hand sanitizer in hospital settings because they could theoretically encourage the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. But the evidence isn't conclusive. And for most of us who are pressed for time (including medical professionals) the pros of hand sanitizer outweigh the potential cons as long as we're all still actually washing our hands every once in a while. So, if you're in a rush, feel free to use your trusty hand sanitizer. But remember that it's not a replacement for good ol' fashioned washing — and actual soap should still be your first choice. Check out the video below to learn more.

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