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Alcohol vs Non Alcohol Hand Sanitisers

Washing with warm water and soap remains the gold standard for hand hygiene and preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Hand sanitisers can also protect against disease-causing microbes, especially in situations when soap and water are not available.

But what are the differences between an alcohol based hand sanitiser and an alcohol free hand sanitiser?

Alcohol Hand Sanitisers

Alcohol based hand sanitisers will contain one of two active ingredients; alcohol or isopropanol. One distinct property that they both share is that they are highly flammable. Hand sanitisers contain 60%-95% alcohol for maximum efficacy, however this high concentration has long raised concerns in both the media and the health care community.

Major concerns around the use of alcohol based sanitisers is wide and varied. It is associated with drying the natural oils in your hands, causing cracking skin. This then necessitates the use of moisturiser and prevents those with psoriasis and eczema from using this type of sanitiser. Activation of dermatitis is another health related issue. There are many, many reports of it causing mild skin burn.

Due to the ease of access, children have been known to have ingested it causing more severe health problems. In the USA alone, official figures show that 77,000 children were admitted to hospital in a three year period, either taking it direct from the applicator or licking it from their hands.

Non-Alcohol Hand Sanitisers

For over 10 years, No Germs has been a strong advocate for alcohol free based hand sanitisers, long before COVID-19. Alcohol free products contain the active ingredient quaternary ammonium compounds. Unlike alcohol based hand sanitisers, it is non-flammable, and low concentrations of this ingredient make it non-toxic. One of the biggest benefits of a quaternary ammonium hand sanitiser is that an alcohol-based product’s ability to kill bacteria ends once the product has dried on the skin, but quaternary ammonium-based products continue to provide protection well after the solution has dried. They also pose much less of a threat in cases of accidental ingestion and is gentle on the skin, which makes our product suitable to be used around children.

Benefits of a Non Alcohol Based Hand Sanitiser
No Germs Hand Sanitiser Alcohol Based Sanitiser
Active ingredients Quaternary Ammonium Compounds Alcohol (normally 60% - 90%)
Kills 99.99% of germs
Kills germs within 10 seconds
Long lasting effect after one application
Safe/non toxic
Gentle on skin
Environmentally friendly
Resistance to superbugs/mutation
Testing/proof of efficacy
What is Quaternary Ammonium?

Quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) are among the most commonly used disinfectants. QACs are membrane-active agents interacting with the cytoplasmic membrane of bacteria and lipids of viruses. The wide variety of chemical structures has seen an evolution in their effectiveness and expansion of applications over the last century.

QACs have been shown to have antimicrobial activity, especially those containing long alkyl chains such as benzalkonium chloride. Benzalkonium chloride has has been used globally as an antibacterial for over 50 years, and is primarily used as a preservative and antimicrobial agent, and secondarily used as a surfactant. It works by killing microorganisms and inhibiting their future growth, and for this reason frequently appears as an ingredient in antibacterial hand wipes, hand sanitisers and antiseptic creams.

A study from 2019 compared a benzalkonium chloride hand sanitiser against a standard ethanol based hand sanitiser. The sanitiser was applied and the bacterial activity on the fingertips of the subject was measured at 1, 2 and 4 hours after application. The subjects with the benzalkonium chloride based hand sanitiser reliably and consistently returned low counts of bacteria than the subjects with the ethanol based hand sanitiser and these results were highly significant.

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Jia, Zhishen; Shen, Dongfeng; Xu, Weiliang (2001). “Synthesis and antibacterial activities of quaternary ammonium salt of chitosan”. Carbohydrate Research. 333 (1): 1–6. doi:10.1016/S0008-6215(01)00112-4. PMID 11423105.

Bondurant, S., C.M. Duley and J.W. Harbell (2019) Demonstrating the persistant antibacterial efficacy of a hand sanitiser containing benzalkonium chloride on human skin at 1, 2, and 4 hours after application. American Journal of Infection Control, vol 47 pp 928-932

Zogics (2020) Alcohol-Based Vs. Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizers (online article)