Busting 3 common myths associated with alcohol-based hand rub

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Megan DiGiorgio, GOJO Clinical Manager, Healthcare
Megan DiGiorgio, GOJO Clinical Manager, Healthcare

Hand hygiene saves lives. In fact, it's the single most important measure for preventing the spread of pathogens.Alcohol-based hand rubs are the global standard for hand hygiene in healthcare facilities, including long-term care.

Even though ABHRs have been around for more than 20 years in healthcare, misperceptions still exist about their use. Too often, we assume that healthcare workers (HCW) know the basics about these life-saving products, but oftentimes they don't. When educating HCW, I like to bust common myths and provide them with the science behind why these products are critically important and why they are preferred. The following are the three most common ABHR myths I encounter in my practice.

Myth #1: Soap and water is better at removing germs than ABHR

The truth is that ABHR are the most effective products for reducing the number of germs on hands. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they work even better than antimicrobial soap.

That's why both the CDC and World Health Organization recommend them preferentially over soap and water, except when hands are visibly soiled or contaminated. Not only are ABHR more effective than soap and water, they can be conveniently placed where needed and reduce the amount of time HCW spend in front of the sink washing and drying their hands.

Myth #2: ABHR dries out my skin

The truth is that ABHR does not dry out your skin, if it is a well-formulated product; actually it has very little impact on the skin. And, well-formulated ABHR contain moisturizers and emollients that remain on skin after the product has dried.

Why do so many people believe that ABHR dries out their skin? Because when skin is already damaged (usually due to over-washing with soap and water or due to environmental factors) ABHR burns when it is applied. Think about what happens when you get a paper cut and you put ABHR on your hands — it hurts! But you don't blame the ABHR for causing the paper cut. ABHR adds insult to injury.

When soap and water is over-used, not only does it lift and suspend oil, dirt and other organic substances from hands, but it can also remove the natural components of the skin that keep it healthy, activating nerve receptors in our skin and creating the burning sensation we experience. 

To avoid skin damage, HCW should use ABHR for the majority of hand hygiene events, and reserve soap and water for when it's truly warranted. This can be a tough habit to break! It's also important to apply lotion frequently to hands, especially in cold, dry climates.

Myth #3: It's necessary to wash my hands after using ABHR a certain number of times

The truth is that the recommendation to wash hands with soap and water after a certain number of ABHR uses (e.g. 5) is outdated and originated from when ABHR were first introduced into the market and build-up of emollients was problematic. Fast forward to today, ABHR have come a long way. Well-formulated products can more effectively deliver skin care ingredients without resultant “sticky-tacky” buildup, so the need to wash after a certain number of ABHR uses is no longer necessary.


Megan J. DiGiorgio, MSN, RN, CIC, FAPIC, is a clinical specialist at GOJO. Learn more at http://www.gojo.com/en/Markets/Long-Term-Care

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