Experts warn the public to avoid ‘substandard’ hand sanitisers

Evidence suggests that alcohol-based hand-rubs with an alcohol content of more than 70% are most effective. 

Matt Bodell
15 June 2020
Hand Gel

The public should avoid buying hand sanitisers from anywhere other than reputable retailers.

An international team of pharmacy experts is warning the public to beware of substandard alcohol-based hand-rubs (ABHR).


Lead in the UK by Dr. Hamid Merchant, who is Subject Leader for the Department of Pharmacy at the University of Huddersfield, they discourage the public from buying hand sanitisers from unknown or unreliable e-commerce sites.

Stocks rapidly vanished from the shelves, with even hospitals and other healthcare facilities running out after the public started to bulk buy at the start of the pandemic.

There is a real risk, they claim, that consumers are obtaining and using hand cleaners with low or inadequate concentrations of alcohol. These might appear similar to hand disinfectants, but purchasers are often unaware that such products cannot ensure disinfection and are not fit for use amid the pandemic.

Evidence suggests that ABHRs with an alcohol content of more than 70% are most effective.


The experts also emphasise that handwashing with soap and water – which can remove virtually all types of pathogens – is always preferable to using ABHRs.

A stark warning.

Their article, titled Hand sanitisers amid CoViD-19: A critical review of alcohol-based products on the market and formulation approaches to respond to increasing demand provides a stark warning of the risks of buying substandard ABHRs.

If the alcohol content is not high enough, the risk for consumers is “mainly a reduced perception of product quality and attractiveness, and reduced ease of use; while overall product efficacy is maintained”.  Many products in the market do not seem to comply with alcohol type and concentrations recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

But much more worrying, explain the authors, is the market presence of “hand cleaners containing substandard and/or unknown concentrations of alcohol that are not meant to be sold or used as disinfectants”.


The article includes detailed scientific data on the types and proportions of alcohol used in ABHRs and the added substances that are used to combat excessive skin dryness and to increase the viscosity of gels, because purely liquid formulations can be far less effective due to rapid evaporation of alcohol.

The researchers also believe that that current awareness of the importance of hand disinfection means it will remain an integral part of people’s hygiene routine, even post-CoViD-19.

The experts are also urging regulatory bodies to revisit their current rules on hand sanitisers.

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