Illustration by Mytam Le

DIY hand sanitizer poses threat

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With the rising number of COVID-19 cases striking the U.S., stores have shelves cleared out of antibacterial products— especially hand sanitizer. Both in stores and online, it is frequently out of stock or regulated in purchase quantities. As people have become desperate to gain access to antibacterial products, the number of DIY hand sanitizer tutorials is increasing. Unfortunately, many fail to realize how harmful these substitutes may be if not executed properly. DIY hand sanitizer poses a risk to its users and should not be the replacement for store bought products. 

Countless YouTube videos and articles demonstrate how to make hand sanitizer at home if none is available for purchase. While it seems relatively simple, one miscalculation in the mixture may lead to an ineffective or even harmful result. Most DIY recipes will call for isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, or ethanol and aloe vera gel with additions of essential oils, which should be handled carefully as to prevent skin damage or allergic reactions based on the oils. 

Despite following a recipe, problems can still arise. The alcohol content may get diluted as it interacts with the aloe vera gel and a lack of aloe vera gel may lead to dried, cracked, or bleeding hands. An insufficient amount of alcohol, however, will be less effective at killing germs compared to store sold products. Furthermore, if the tools used are not properly sterilized, the batch may be contaminated. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) both have guidelines for creating hand sanitizers. Nonetheless, most people will find it difficult to follow exact proportions, and WHO’s recommendation of using an alcoholometer is not something that every person has on hand. WHO’s guideline is directed to those in local production in countries and health care facilities, not for personal recipes. The FDA acknowledges that there is much unknown information, as of now, about the safety of the methods being used and its effect on human skin. Absence of knowledge may lead to skin weakening and an increased vulnerability to infection. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that using hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol will help prevent sickness and the spread of germs. Although that is true, it is best to continue washing hands with soap and water instead of relying on hand sanitizer. Washing one’s hands for 20 seconds is more effective at removing certain germs compared to hand sanitizer. Individuals should try to purchase hand sanitizer from stores, if possible, and participate in social distancing to remain safe. 

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