Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, we have been urged to pay attention to our hand hygiene — and for good reason. Hand washing is one of the most important things you can do to help slow or reduce the spread of the virus, and help keep you and your family safe1.
When to wash
Hand hygiene is key. It is important to wash your hands3:
Why hand washing is best, then hand sanitiser1
Washing your hands properly with water and soap or a gentle non-soap based cleanser is one of the best ways to help prevent COVID-19.
Cleansers work by lifting dirt and contaminants like bacteria and viruses from the skin. The mechanical action of hand washing also plays a part; the act of rubbing your hands together can help to lift contaminants from the skin. In fact, the mechanical action of washing your hands is a major reason why cleansing with water and a non-soap based cleanser is the preferred method. While hand sanitisers can be effective against germs such as bacteria, they cannot remove dirt and grime from the hands. The best advice is to wash your hands thoroughly with water and soap or a gentle non-soap based cleanser for at least 20 seconds whenever you can. When this isn’t an option, keep a hand sanitiser close at hand.
Why a non-soap-based cleanser? What about soap?
Soap and non-soap based cleansers do exactly the same thing; they clean the skin. A key difference though is the type of ingredient used to do this. Soap is formed though a chemical process known as saponification, which is a reaction between strong bases. This reaction leaves the soap highly alkaline, which means that it usually has a pH of around 9 or 104. The skin itself has a natural pH of around5, so an alkaline product like soap can alter the skins composition5 and potentially lead to irritation. Non-soap based cleansers contain synthetic detergents in place of soap. As the process doesn’t need to be highly alkaline, like soap, the pH of these products can be closer to that of the skin. What this means is that cleansers will work just as well as soap without aggravating your skin.
Hand washing done right:
1. WebMD. The Power of Hand-Washing to Prevent Coronavirus. 2020 [internet]. 06/04/2020. Retrieved 18/03/2020. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200306/powerof-hand-washing-to-prevent-coronavirus
2. NSW Government. Health. Infectious Diseases. COVID-19- Frequently Asked Questions. 2020 [internet]. ]. Updated 18/03/2020, retrieved 18/03/2020. Available from: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/alerts/Pages/coronavirus-faqs.aspx#1-3
3. CDC. Handwashing. When and how to wash your hands. 2019 [internet]. Last reviewed 03/10/2019, retrieved 18/03/2020. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html
4. Tarun J, Susan J, Suria J, Susan VJ, Criton S. Evaluation of pH of bathing soaps and shampoos for skin and hair care. Indian J Dermatol 2014;59(5):442-444
5. Lambers H, Piessens S, Bloem A, Pronk H, Finkel P. Natural skin surface pH is on average below 5, which is beneficial for its resident flora. Int J Cosmet Sci 2006;28(5):359-70