What to Look for in Natural Hand Sanitiser
When it comes to products we use around our homes or on ourselves, it is only normal to have a preference for natural ingredients. Our hesitancy to artificial ingredients or compounds is often driven by uncertainty of any toxic effect they might have. This could vary from a severe allergic reaction, to less severe–but still uncomfortable–sensitivity. It might be the smell that affects you or contact with the product might make your skin tingle, feel like it is burning, or even result in a rash.
Our increased awareness of the need for–and benefit of using–hand sanitizers is no different. We are suddenly spoiled for choice when it comes to hand sanitizers, from both known and newer brands. When it comes to natural hand sanitizers there are two types commonly available: those that are effective against most bacteria and viruses, and those that might be effective against some bacteria but not against viruses. The latter might favour the use of essential oils and plant extracts over alcohol when claiming to be natural.
In Australia, hand sanitisers are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), with the exception of any that meet specific formulation, manufacturing, labelling and advertising requirements, or are considered to be general consumer products or cosmetics1. The formulation for hand sanitizers to be exempted from other regulatory requirements limit the actual ingredients according to recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO) and similar decisions by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And the key active ingredient that is permitted is alcohol; either ethanol–sometimes listed as ethyl alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol.
What Does This Mean for Natural Hand Sanitisers
Any hand sanitizer that claims to kill specific organisms, such as E. coli or viruses, or are promoted for safe use in clinics, hospitals, or other healthcare environments must be evaluated by the TGA. Part of the evaluation involves providing data that supports the claims being made.
Hand sanitisers that are excluded from TGA regulation because they meet the exact formulation requirements must contain either ethyl or isopropyl alcohol and can only claim to be suitable for medical and health services. They cannot claim to kill specific organisms.
Finally, hand sanitisers that do not contain the required level of alcohol–or any alcohol–are limited to only containing low-risk ingredients and can only claim therapeutic benefits against low level bacteria activity.
No hand sanitiser is allowed to imply or make explicit claims about preventing or treating specific illnesses or viruses.
What Should be in an Effective Hand Sanitiser
Whether a hand sanitiser is promoted as being natural or not, there are certain ingredients you should look for to know that it will be effective against a range of bacteria and viruses.
For a hand sanitiser to be fast and effective in eliminating many types of bacteria and viruses it needs to have an alcohol content of between 60 and 90 percent. Anything lower than 60 percent is less effective and works slower. Alcohol levels above 90 percent are no more effective than lower levels, but there is a higher risk of the alcohol evaporating, reducing the effectiveness.
Type of Alcohol
Whether regulated or not, the TGA only accepts the use of ethanol–or ethyl alcohol–and isopropyl alcohol in hand sanitisers. Unlike methanol, both of these alcohols are safe for use in hand sanitiser. Although ethanol, isopropyl, and methanol can all be produced using organic compounds, ethanol is the most natural and is usually processed from corn or sugar cane. It is the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic drinks. However, it can have a stronger drying effect on skin than isopropyl, so hand sanitisers made using ethyl alcohol usually include a moisturising agent.
Hand sanitisers that are exempt from TGA regulation based on formulation may only contain purified water, glycerol, and/or hydrogen peroxide as other ingredients. The water acts as a carrier agent for the alcohol, making it easier to disperse. The glycerol, in addition to having mild antimicrobial and antiviral properties, also serves as a moisturising agent. The addition of hydrogen peroxide serves mostly to improve the sterility of the hand sanitizer, ensuring no bacteria or fungi can survive in the stored sanitizer. Other ingredients such as colouring, fragrances, or emollients (moisturising agents) are not allowed.
However, it is important to remember that this only applies to hand sanitizers that are exempt from TGA regulation based on formulation. Hand sanitizers that are regulated and approved by the TGA may contain other ingredients that make the sanitiser smell better, alter its appearance or consistency (gels or wipes), or improve the moisturising properties of the sanitiser.
Only alcohol, and at the right levels, has been shown to be most effective against a range of bacteria and viruses. With the added benefit of minimal risk of resistance forming. Essential oils might offer some protection against some bacteria, but effectiveness against viruses has not been tested or proved. Benzalkonium chloride, a common ingredient in alcohol-free sanitizers has also not been shown to be effective against viruses and has a greater risk of creating resistance in bacteria and viruses.
If you’re weary of using the hand sanitizers positioned at the entrance to businesses and shopping centres, Elyptol offer a range of natural hand sanitiser sprays, gels, and wipes. All our products use ethanol processed from corn and sugar cane, along with glycerol, and a small amount of eucalyptus, with Hyprolose and Piroctone Olamine added to our gel sanitizers. They’re not only convenient and portable, but they also offer great protection against disease causing germs, and are registered with the TGA.