Is DIY Hand Sanitizer Safe? We Asked a Doctor

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If there’s one good thing that’s come from the coronavirus, it’s that the world is making hygiene a top priority. (Think about it: Before this, when was the last time you made sure to count to 20 when you washed your hands?) But this newfound appreciation for hand cleanliness has also made people nearly obsessive over hand sanitizers. It’s gotten to the point that it’s hard to find bottles of Purell, or even the generic stuff, at drugstores across the country. And it’s, like, $86 on Amazon. Well, hand sanitizer is basically alcohol, right? How hard could it possibly be to make at home? We asked a doctor.

Should we make DIY hand sanitizer?

Making a batch of homemade hand sanitizer seems easy enough. A quick Google search will bring you to a number of how-to articles and YouTube videos breaking down the steps, but many in the medical world aren’t on board.

“I am not supportive of making your own hand sanitizer,” says John Whyte, M.D., WebMD’s chief medical officer. “The problem with making these yourself is that many of us aren’t good at math and don’t measure proportions correctly and also don’t follow directions well, making them less effective or not effective at all.”

Is there any danger to using DIY hand sanitizer?

Hand sanitizers are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Whyte says, so the ingredients and the amounts used are accurate and “based on good manufacturing.” Ethyl alcohol, the active ingredient and OG germ killer in hand sanitizer, is the reason they work. But sanitizers are also mixed with emollients—moisturizers that soften skin—which counteract how harsh the alcohol would otherwise be on our hands. Using the wrong amount of alcohol could make your DIY hand sanitizer ineffective and give you a false sense of security, and using the wrong balance of emollients will leave you with raw and painfully dry skin, Dr. Whyte tells us. Darn.

What should I do to stay healthy?

If you’re worried about getting the coronavirus, the flu or a run-of-the-mill cold, the best possible thing you can do to stay safe is to wash your hands. Often. Handwashing is far more effective than using hand sanitizers, Dr. Whyte says, but if you’re not near a sink, there are still a few things you can do to be proactive about your health.

1. Sneeze into your arm

If you have to cough or sneeze, it’s important to do it into the crook of your arm instead of straight into your hands. That moisture you feel on your palms is jam-packed with germs that will spread to everything you touch.

2. Stop touching your face 

The number of times we touch our face every day is astounding. It’s not something we actively think about, but a 2015 study conducted by researchers in Australia estimated that the average person touches their face almost two dozen times per hour! They also found that half the time we’re putting our hands in or on our mouth and near our eyes or nose, so it’s a wonder we’re not all sick nonstop. Keep your germy hands off your face and stay healthy.

3. Clean your phone

Speaking of everything we touch, our phone is a close second to our face in how often it’s in contact with our hands. Use a LysolClorox or any other type of disinfectant wipe and scrub it down every single day. While you’re at it, wipe down doorknobs, keyboards, remotes and anything else that you, your family and your coworkers touch often.

4. Just wash your hands 

We know, there’s only so many times a day you can do this, but trust the pros like Dr. Whyte when they say this is the best possible thing you can do. Use enough soap to work up a lather and rub your palms together for at least 20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself) and make sure to get the backs of your hands, your fingertips and in between your knuckles. Stay healthy!

Does Hand Sanitizer Work? We Asked an Infectious Disease Doctor

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From 2019-2020 Ariel Scotti held the role of Editor at PureWow covering trends, wellness and more.