Is using hand sanitiser to beat coronavirus RUINING your skin?

As fears of a serious coronavirus outbreak in the UK spread, many of us are taking appropriate precautions by stocking up on hand sanitiser and applying it liberally throughout the day.

There have now been at least 39 confirmed cases of the disease - known as Covid 19 - in the UK, including a secondary school pupil in Devon, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said a serious outbreak in the spring was 'highly likely'.

Government advice is to wash your hands regularly with soap and hot water, but there's been a surge in hand sanitisers sales, with people using it as a back-up when they're on the move.   

OCADO has sold out of its anti-bacterial gels, with increasing numbers of people putting in large orders, while some Boots shops are limiting customers to buying two bottles each and have empty shelves. 

The NHS says that to kill most viruses, a hand sanitiser requires at least 60 per cent alcohol content. Viruses are tougher to kill than bacteria, however coronavirus is more susceptible to alcohol than norovirus.

In addition to not being the perfect solution, is the repeated use of harsh formulas containing alcohol having an impact on your skin?  

Emma Coleman, a dermatology practitioner and nurse with 20 years experience in the NHS, warns the harsh ingredients in some hand gels can alter the skin's barrier function and trigger allergic reactions.

Here Emma, who now works out of Kent and at 10 Harley Street in London, and two other dermatology experts share their advice for keeping your hands both healthy and clean with FEMAIL. 

As fears of a serious coronavirus outbreak in the UK spread, many of us are taking appropriate precautions by stocking up on hand sanitiser and applying it liberally throughout the day - but what impact does repeated use have on our skin?

As fears of a serious coronavirus outbreak in the UK spread, many of us are taking appropriate precautions by stocking up on hand sanitiser and applying it liberally throughout the day - but what impact does repeated use have on our skin?

Risk of allergic dermatitis  

If someone is run down and their skin is a bit sensitive anyway, there's normally a number of factors that will lead to this, but sometimes the use of the alcohol hand gel can push skin over the edge.

A lot of the ingredients in standard alcohol sanitiser that we buy off the shelves can be quite astringent.

'Most of them contain ethyl alcohol (ethanol) or something similar, which is obviously going to kill the bacteria on the surface of the hands,' Emma says.

'There's always a risk of allergic dermatitis forming – which is a red prickly-looking rash. This is because the use of the hand gel is going to change the surface microflora of the skin in some way, and in some people that could lead to an allergic reaction. It may just lead to outbreaks of eczema as well.'

Emma Coleman, a dermatology practitioner and nurse with 20 years experience in the NHS, warns the harsh ingredients in some hand gels can alter the skin's barrier function and trigger allergic reactions

Emma Coleman, a dermatology practitioner and nurse with 20 years experience in the NHS, warns the harsh ingredients in some hand gels can alter the skin's barrier function and trigger allergic reactions

Dr Anne Wetter, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of SNA-based skincare ALLÉL, explains: 'The alcohols used in hand sanitiser dries out the skin, by reducing the skin of its own natural oils. 

'This will in the long run lead to a a compromised skin barrier if the skin is not remoisturised sufficiently. The skin will be irritated, easier infected and have a higher risk of developing contact dermatitis.'

Alter the skin's barrier function 

Emma explains: 'The skin barrier has a certain permeability when it's balanced, and part of its structure is oil, ceramides, which are kind of fat, which maintains skin integrity.

'If that's compromised with a dermatitis break out, or if the skin starts to become cracked with the use of the hand gel, that would mean that in some way, the structure or permeability has been compromised, or put under stress.

Moisturise before applying hand gel 

'Using moisturiser after the sanitiser would compromise its effectiveness,' says Emma.

'I would recommend a combination. If you were going to use the hand cream in the day, I would wash hands, moisturise, then use sanitiser over the top, in that order.

Emma also suggests carrying a pair of gloves, although this has not been suggested as part of official government advice.  

'If people were having a reaction to the hand gel, they could always carry disposable gloves. That way they're still protecting themselves from the virus,' she said. 

You can get hypoallergenic gloves – it will probably look a bit strange, but at the end of the day, it's safety.'

Official advice remains that washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to protect against the virus.  

'In that way it will become extremely reactive to the product being put on it, and it wouldn't be advised that you continue using it.'

Dr Ismat Nasiruddin, a dermatologist at www.pulselightclinic.co.uk, adds: 'Alcohol is known to be a skin irritant and very drying for skin, especially sensitive, damaged or fragile skin such as eczema. Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition

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