What Is Hand Sanitiser Gel?

Hand Sanitiser Gel

In less than a month, Coronavirus has caused hand sanitiser gel, once a common, everyday hygiene product, to become like gold dust. The UK saw its supplies sell out completely in around a week, and we have seen gin distilleries and breweries, such as Port of Leith Distillery and BrewDog, rapidly change their production lines to pump out alcohol gel instead of gin and beer. So, what is it, and how does it kill coronavirus?

Hand sanitiser gel is used when hand washing is not possible or convenient to kill germs and bacteria. It can come with or without alcohol, but only the ones with alcohol (at least 70% vol.) are effective against viruses. Hand sanitiser gel is one of the WHO’s Essential Medicines – it plays a vital role in combating infection and disease all around the world.

What Is It Made From?

There are two formulas for making alcohol hand sanitiser, according to the World Health Organisation’s Guide to Local Production:

Comfort at home for elderly and less abled

Formula 1:

  • Ethanol 96%
  • Hydrogen peroxide 3%
  • Glycerol 98%
  • Sterile distilled or boiled cold water

Formula 2:

  • Isopropyl alcohol 99.8%
  • Hydrogen peroxide 3%
  • Glycerol 98%
  • Sterile distilled or boiled cold water

Glycerol is used as a humectant, which means it retains moisture. This is used to prevent hands from drying out and become cracked and sore. Many commercially produced hand sanitisers use aloe vera as a humectant, but our new hand sanitiser followed WHO guidelines and uses glycerol.

Hydrogen peroxide does not kill viruses, but kills bacterial spores, which means the solutions do more than just combat coronavirus.

How Do They Kill Viruses?

Coronavirus virion structure

Alcohol kills viruses by dissolving viral fat membranes and protein coats, which essentially destroys the viruses. A virus will disintegrate when its protective coating is eaten away by alcohol. Not all viruses are built the same way, some have a protein coat called a capsid, and some have an additional layer around the capsid made from fat, called a lipid bilayer. This means that some viruses are more resistant to chemicals than others, and also explains why some viruses can survive much longer than others on surfaces. In coronavirus there is a combination of proteins in the membrane that protects the RNA genome – once the membrane is destroyed, the RNA collapses and effectively dies.

Not all viruses are best killed with alcohol. For instance, Rhinovirus-14, the main cause of the common cold, is resistant to 70% ethanol, so alcohol gel will not be as effective at stopping the spread of colds. However, “enveloped viruses”, of which coronavirus is one type, are very susceptible to 70% ethanol.

Hand Sanitiser Protects

A good hand sanitiser also protects by creating a protective layer over the skin, when used correctly. It is important when using hand sanitiser to ensure that you cover your whole hand with it – between the fingers, on the back of the hand, palm, around the thumbs, under the fingernails, and up to the wrists. And when used, it is vital you do not then wipe your hands on anything – many people wipe off excess sanitiser, but this can dramatically reduce its effectiveness – allow the gel to dry out. don’t wipe it off.

So as well as killing any virus that is on your hands, using a hand sanitiser creates a protective layer on your skin to help kill any new virus that you may come into contact with. If you are planning on staying home all day, washing with soap and water is ideal, but if you are going shopping, or carrying out any other tasks outside, take a bottle of hand sanitiser with you, and use it!