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September 13, 2020 8 min read 0 Comments

The global pandemic created by COVID-19 has turned hand cleanliness and hygiene into a focal point as disinfecting your hands frequently with sanitizers does not only prevent the contagion but also stops the spread of the novel virus.

From the past few months, you must have heard of the term, ‘hydroalcoholic gel’ while purchasing hand sanitizers for your safety.

Before coronavirus, the majority of people use to wash their hands using soap and water as it was considered an effective measure to keep the germs and bacteria at bay. However, during the global pandemic, washing hands is not enough.

What is hydroalcoholic gel?

In this situation, the hydroalcoholic gel is much more effective than just washing your hands with soap and water. It is a gel that is manufactured using the right amount of alcohol and antiseptic. Unlike water and anti-bacterial soap, the hydroalcoholic gel can be applied to the hands at any time.

All you have to do is rub your hands with the hydroalcoholic gel for 30 seconds and it will eliminate 99.99% of bacteria and germs from your hands. Its effect stays as long as you do not touch surfaces, objects, people, etc.

The hydroalcoholic gel provides protection against a wide range of bacteria including the Gram-negative, gram-positive, fungi, mycobacterium tuberculosis, and viruses. Other than alcohol and antiseptic, the hydroalcoholic gel consists of panthenol which moisturizes and protects the skin. To be specific, panthenol is used to maintain a proper level of moisture on the skin as it regenerates the tissue every time you apply the gel.

During these times, the importance of hydroalcoholic gel is that you can find it everywhere: be it at a bus station, a grocery store, and even at home.

To make the hydroalcoholic gel, you need the right formula. For instance, you need the right amount of antiseptic and alcohol. Excessive presence of any of the substances could damage the bacteria of natural microbiota located at the surface of our hands and skin.

To protect the natural bacteria of hands, the hydroalcoholic must have one or more protective agents such as the aloe vera or glycerin.

If a protective agent is not added in any hydroalcoholic gel, it might dry the skin, causing itchiness and in some cases, eczema.

The high amount of alcohol in the hydroalcoholic gel can destabilize the viscosity of the antiseptic. This is the very reason why you get sticky hands after applying a hydroalcoholic gel with a high amount of alcohol.

 To limit the dryness and itchiness, the best solution is to mix the hydroalcoholic gel with a protective agent like aloe vera.

Is hydroalcoholic gel bad for your health?

Hydro-alcoholic solutions are those which have alcoholic content in them to fight against bacteria and germs. Hydroalcoholic gels are now used every day, at schools, shopping malls, offices, and even at homes as people like to disinfect their hands and stop the spread of the virus.

The hydroalcoholic gel is used by the medical community staff. However, it also became popular in the public since the spread of the H1N1 virus. Now, they are widely available in drug stores, pharmacies, grocery stores, supermarkets, etc.

Some hydroalcoholic gels are designed especially for children so that they could use it effectively to stop the spread of coronavirus.

However, for some years, the active disinfectant gel is being questioned by scientists from toxicovigilance centers and the French Poison organization. A research study by AFSSAPS is the main cause of the hydroalcoholic gel being taken under observation.

Hydroalcoholic gels were causing too many domestic accidents, especially with children involved. Even though 90% of the people reported no accidents, the remaining 10% of people reported accidents at the workplace. It has been the main reason poisoning in young children.

These accidents, however, are not trivial as the drunkenness in young patients can be one reason to justify them. But hydroalcoholic gels contain 50% of alcohol.

65% of accidents of young children are caused due to the ingestion of the liquid. 35% of the accidents of young children are caused by eye contact. The majority of the children who were reported poisoned by hydroalcoholic gel were under the age of 4.

The consequences of ingesting hydroalcoholic gel can be serious and dangerous as 4 children were reported to be in a coma in the year 2009.

AFFSAPS concluded in its report that the dose of 1 tablespoon of hydroalcoholic gel for young children could result in health complications. Hence, the addition of a bittering agent (that causes the bitter and bad taste in the hydroalcoholic gel) is not enough for these young children to stop.

The hydroalcoholic gel is dangerous for young children

In general, the use of hydroalcoholic gel should be limited for young children and adults too, because the high concentration of alcohol applied to the skin ruptures the skin hydrolipidic film. The damage of hydrolipidic film is a serious consequence of using the gel because it protects the body and the skin from external pollution and aggressions.

There are many pollutants in our environment. Using hydroalcoholic gel promotes skin penetration of harmful elements present on the surface and in our environment. One example of such a substance is bisphenol. It is present everywhere around us (mostly in plastics) and can disrupt the endocrine in our systems.

The skin characteristics of children are different from those of elders, especially the surface mass ratio. Using hydroalcoholic gel promotes a higher concentration of substances in the blood, causing more toxicity in children’s bodies than those of adults.

Is hydroalcoholic gel dangerous?

The US drug and food Administration continues to warn the public, healthcare professionals and consumers about hydroalcoholic gels due to certain dangerous elements like wood alcohol and methanol.

Wood alcohol is a substance that’s mostly used to anti-freeze and to create fuel. However, using a hydroalcoholic gel with wood alcohol can be extremely dangerous and toxic for the consumers as it can easily be absorbed through the skin. If ingested, it could lead to stomach poisoning as well.

The US drug and Food Administrations is working with various manufacturers and suppliers to remove hydroalcoholic gels that contain methanol or wood alcohol.

Initially, the FDA warned the consumers about some methanol-containing hydroalcoholic gels being sold in the marketplaces in the month of June.

But recently, the agency took strict notice due to on-growing events of cardiac arrests and blindness due to hydroalcoholic gels.

A significant number of deaths due to methanol-containing hydroalcoholic gels were reported to the poison control centers. The centers and FDA continue to see the rising number of incidents due to methanol-containing gels.

Practicing good hygiene which includes using anti-bacterial soap and if the water is not available, a safe hand sanitizer is an important public service message.

However, the consumers must be vigilant about the hydroalcoholic gel they use and must consider their safety and health over anything.

FDA has recently issued a list of dangerous hydroalcoholic gels and has warned the consumers and health care professionals to stop using them for the sake of their safety.

In most of the hydroalcoholic gels, the ingredient, ‘methanol’ is not mentioned on the product label. However, manufacturers add it without caring for public safety. Methanol is not a substance to be added in any drug, including the hydroalcoholic gels.

According to the FDA’s testing, most of the hydroalcoholic gels were found contaminated by methanol. The contamination level ranged between 1% to 80%.

How to choose the right hydroalcoholic gel?

The hydroalcoholic gel market is huge and a lucrative one as well. Not all products are created with one formula. While some manufacturers use ethanol, others use isopropanol. Some gels are very effective while others are not effective against the virus.

To choose the safe and right hydroalcoholic gel, you need to keep the following rules in mind:

Always check the alcohol concentration

To be effective against the novel coronavirus, the gel must contain at least 50% alcohol. It can be anything: from ethanol and isopropanol to propyl alcohol. Other than that, the hydroalcoholic gel you are purchasing must bear the standard NF EN 14476 label. This label indicates that this gel kills viruses as well.

If the hydroalcoholic gel contains less than 50% of alcohol, it means that you can clean your hands but it is not effective against COVID-19.

Avoid scented hydroalcoholic gels

Practically, the list of ingredients of a hydroalcoholic gel should be short. According to the World Health Organization, only 3 ingredients can be enough to make an alcohol-based sanitizer at home. Beyond that, we are exposed to unnecessary irritating products such as dyes or perfumes in the gel.

The smell of a non-scented hydroalcoholic gel is pungent. The smell might be unpleasant but despite that, we advise you to avoid vanilla-scented or strawberry-scented hydroalcoholic gels. If you are prone to allergies, it is best to use a non-scented hydroalcoholic gel as the product is applied frequently in these times. So, it can cause allergies to your skin.

Always purchase from pharmacies

In pharmacies and drugstores, the hydroalcoholic gels are more controlled as compared to online e-commerce websites. Web purchases are not always reliable. Therefore, it is better to purchase a safe hydroalcoholic gel from a pharmacy or a drugstore.

Likewise, you must be cautious when preparing your own hydroalcoholic gel. You would find many recipes to make hydroalcoholic gels but most of them are not effective. If you really want to make your own gel, there is a WHO-recommended recipe available on their websites. We have mentioned it below as well. But the recipe is quite technical to perform and requires utmost attention and precision. The reactions while making your own gel could be vigorous. So, you must remain cautious at all times. 

Keep your hydroalcoholic gel well

In addition to choosing a safe hydroalcoholic gel for yourself and your children, you must keep it well. Remember to go through the expiration date mention on the bottle. Other than that, do not keep it open in the air.

Keeping it at room temperature is also essential for it to be well throughout its lifespan. The temperature should not be too hot as ethanol is volatile and it would evaporate. It should not be cold too as then; the mixture would solidify.

Another noteworthy point is to use the hydroalcoholic gel well while respecting the application time and friction. Do not rub it harshly on your hands and remember to keep rubbing your hands softly for 30 seconds for proper application.

How to make your own hydroalcoholic gel at home?

While many hydroalcoholic gels have been reported as unsafe for the consumers, you cannot stop using hand sanitizers as the virus is still out there. Even though washing hands frequently with antibacterial soap is effective, there are times when water is not readily available. In these situations, it is best to use a safe hydroalcoholic gel.

Here is a recipe to make a safe hydroalcoholic gel to keep the virus at bay:

The World Health Organization has advised people to make their own gels using only 3 ingredients which they can easily find at any departmental store, drugstore, or pharmacy.

Those 3 ingredients are:

  • Glycerol (98%)- however, you can also use glycerin
  • 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • Isopropanol (99.8%) or ethanol (96%)

To make the 1 liter of hydroalcoholic gel, here are the recommended quantities:

  • 98% glycerol 14.5 ml
  • 3% hydrogen peroxide 41.7 ml
  • 96% ethanol 833.3 ml

Steps to make hydroalcoholic gel at home

  • You will need a container to make this gel. Remember to clean the container thoroughly before preparing the hydroalcoholic gel
  • Mix the right ratio of ethanol with hydrogen peroxide
  • After that, add glycerol to the mixture
  • Add cool boiled water or distilled water (1 liter in volume)
  • Mix everything well and pour the solution into a clean container
  • Keep the bottles away from reach for at least 72 hours

Closing thoughts

With the virus at peak, you must practice good hygiene by washing your hands and applying hydroalcoholic gel when water is not available. Even though there might be consequences of using hydroalcoholic gel, preparing your own gel, or at least going through the product label once to ensure that there are no irritating and harming substances could lower the risks of allergies and reactions.