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Less hand sanitizer, more soap and water

(Photo by Clay Banks/ Unsplash)

Judging by the empty shelves and the number of DIY rubbing alcohol and aloe recipes on social media, people are seemingly bathing themselves in hand sanitizer. But is it wise to use the antibacterial serum so frequently?

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Dr, William DePaolo is director of the Center for Microbiome Sciences & Therapeutics at UW Medical Center. He says, yes, hand sanitizer kills harmful bacteria, but it also kills the good bacteria you need to stay healthy.

“Another reason that we caution against overuse of these antibacterials, these hand sanitizers, is the risk for antibiotic resistance, which can occur. Not directly because of the hand sanitizers themselves, because they’re not really an antibiotic, but it makes these bugs stronger, it makes them more likely to be able to mutate and to adapt to these harsher environments, which means that they could potentially develop an antibiotic resistant state,”DePaolo said.

So how much is too much hand sanitizer? How do you know if you’re overdoing it?

“That’s a good question! When you use the hand sanitizer it’s going to kill those bacteria right away,” DePaolo said. “So if you keep that in mind, I think even doing it multiple times a day is not necessarily the best idea. I like to remind people that nothing beats soap and water and washing your hands thoroughly. That’s really just as effective as the hand sanitizers. They’re really great if you’re on the go, if you don’t have an opportunity to get to a sink. Around your house, if there’s a sink or a bathroom that you can wash your hands in? That’s just as good.”

Dr, DePaolo said the bacteria wiped out from the hand sanitizer will grow back, but not exactly as it was before.

“It does grow back, our microbiomes are very resilient. But there’s always a chance that by wiping out these bacteria, they could grow back a little differently or you could pick up a bacteria not as good as what was there before,” he said. “We still don’t understand dysbiosis, which is the change in these microbiomes. I think there’s still research out there that has to try and understand how they grow back.”

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The real question is, what’s the greater risk right now? Losing important, immunity protecting bacteria on your skin, or protecting yourself from COVID-19?

“I think right now, in the state that we’re at, using hand sanitizers when you’re out and there’s no opportunity to get to a sink, that’s fine,” DePaolo said. “Just limit the use of that. Be aware of where you’re putting your hands, what you’re touching, so that maybe you don’t have to use the hand sanitizer over and over again during one trip to the grocery store.”

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