The combination of a continuous stream of academic and research studies pointing to the “downside” of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, coupled with heightened awareness on equally-effective, yet safer, environmentally friendlier, and arguably, more cost-efficient hand sanitizer products has resulted in a major shift away from flammable, alcohol-based products, and towards alcohol-free products.
A Nielson Co. report showed the retail market of hand sanitizer during a 52 week period of the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic generated as much as $180 million, a 70 percent increase from the previous year.
Alcohol-free hand sanitizers most often utilize the organic compound benzalkonium chloride as the active ingredient.
Benzalkonium chloride and its cousins have been recognized for a long time as effective antibacterial and antiseptic agents and are proven to be upwards of 99.99 percent effective.
It is essentially nontoxic to be applied to the skin or mucous membranes. Benzalkonium Chloride is used primarily in hand or face washes, as well as a disinfectant
“Benzalkonium chloride-based hand sanitizers demonstrated greater sustained degerming activity than gelled alcohol gel hand sanitizers that actually became less effective with repeated use and made the skin dirtier, not cleaner due to removal of protective natural skin oils and entrapment of dead skin cells by the polymer thickeners used in the gelled alcohol products,” reported Mason Chemical Company.
“I don’t know why we always seem to stress alcohol-based hand sanitizers,” said Dr. Richard Tooker, chief medical officer for Kalamazoo County, Michigan. “It may be to keep public education easier and less complicated. I personally don’t like them because I have eczema and it really dries and inflames my skin, increasing my risk for infection.”
For years the U.S. Centers For Disease Control (CDC) has provided nominal guidance on alcohol-free hand sanitizers.
“When reviewing the [ironic] cautionary statements provided by makers of alcohol-based products that include “recommend washing hands before applying”, coupled with their acknowledging flashpoint liability, and the increasing news media reports connecting alcohol-based products to unintended ingestion and alcohol-poisoning, as well as intended product ‘re-purposing’ by those with substance abuse issues, the decisions to switch to non-alcohol products have been easily supported,” stated Jay Berkman, company spokesman for MGS Brands.
For some of these same reasons, in January 2009, the U.S. Naval Submarine Command officially prohibited alcohol-based sanitizers onboard their fleet of submarines.
Berkman first and foremost advocates washing with soap and water, however when that is not an option he would “unquestionably choose a non-alcohol hand sanitizer over one with alcohol.”
“It’s true that alcohol-free sanitizers are often slightly more expensive when compared to legacy alcohol-gels, but they are noticeably more cost efficient,” said Berkman when discussing whether we will see an increase in alcohol-free hand sanitizers in the future. “The industry is currently comprised of small players and most aren’t producing in large quantities, but there are now 16 or 17 brands penetrating the market which is more than we saw several years ago. The consumer is becoming more and more aware of the product.”