Do Hand Sanitizer Lotions Actually Work?

You already know that keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to keep yourself and others around you healthy.

Plain old handwashing with soap and water is most effective at fighting germs, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes. When you’re on the go, hand sanitizer made with at least 60 percent alcohol is a good stand-in.

“Hand sanitizer remains important because it helps remove germs from your hands, so that they do not end up on your face,” explains Jeffrey Cohen, MD, board- certified dermatologist and assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. These products can help reduce your risk of the common cold and — in combination with vaccines — COVID-19 and the flu, Dr. Cohen adds.

How Traditional Hand Sanitizers Can Irritate Skin

The alcohol in hand sanitizers can have a drying effect on the skin, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, associate professor of dermatology and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. With overuse, hand sanitizers can disrupt the skin barrier. For those with eczema and others with sensitive skin, the skin barrier is already compromised, increasing inflammation and causing or worsening symptoms including dryness, redness, flakiness, and irritation, notes the National Eczema Association. Therefore, using hand sanitizers without moisturizing the skin afterward can worsen symptoms of eczema on the hands.

4 Tips for Choosing a Quality Moisturizing Hand Sanitizer

To pick a product that cleans and restores moisture to the skin, turn your attention to the ingredients list and follow these expert tips.

1. Eyeball the Alcohol Type and Concentration

“I always look for ethyl alcohol, which is more effective than isopropyl alcohol at killing microorganisms,” says Karan Lal, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Hillsborough, New Jersey. While sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60 and 95 percent are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or a non-alcohol- based hand sanitizer, per the CDC, sticking to a sanitizer on the lower end of the scale is better for your skin. “I would avoid very high concentrations (more than 85 percent) of alcohol because they are more drying,” Dr. Lal says. “All you need is 60 percent ethyl alcohol.”

3. Identify Products With Moisturizing Agents

In terms of inactive ingredients, Lal looks for squalene, glycerin, and coconut oil — “all of which help attract water and maintain moisture,” he says. Nazanin Saedi, MD, department co-chair of the Laser and Aesthetics Surgery Center at Dermatology Associates of Plymouth Meeting in Pennsylvania, agrees, noting that glycerin is the main ingredient she looks for in moisturizing hand sanitizers.

1. Biossance Squalane Hand Sanitizer

Lal recommends this hand sanitizer because it boasts 70 percent ethyl alcohol, plus hydrating squalane and vegan glycerine. It’s also fragrance-free, making it a great option for those with eczema or sensitive skin.

Buy it.

2. Pipette Hand Sanitizer

Another favorite of Lal’s, this hand sanitizer from baby brand Pipette is hypoallergenic and contains 65 percent ethyl alcohol. The fragrance-free hand sanitizer also boasts sugarcane-derived squalane for hydration.

Buy it.

3. Dove Deep Moisture Hand Sanitizer

This product is made with 61 percent naturally derived ethyl alcohol, in addition to moisturizers and emollients such as glycerin, butylene glycol, dimethicone, and glycine soja (soybean) oil. Both Lal and Zeichner are fans.

Buy it.

4. Vaseline Clinical Care Hand Sanitizer Lotion

Both Saedi and Zeichner recommend this non-alcohol-based disinfectant. “This hand sanitizer uses FDA-cleared benzalkonium chloride to keep the hands disinfected, but helps keep the skin hydrated and protected with glycerin and tapioca starch, forming a breathable seal over the skin,” explains Zeichner.

Buy it.

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