Educate Patients About Hand Sanitizers

OTC Guide2023 OTC Guide

Health care professionals can provide patients with tips on appropriate hand sanitizer use, as well as product recommendations.

Hand sanitizers became especially popular as a strategy for preventing the spread of COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic. In 2020, demand increased, leading to shortages of alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout the United States.1 Now hand sanitizers are readily available at a variety of locations, including local pharmacies and supermarkets. The FDA regulates hand sanitizers as OTC medications.2 Health care professionals can provide patients with tips on appropriate hand sanitizer use, as well as product recommendations.

Young woman using hand sanitizer gel with liquid alcohol disinfectant for prevention of coronavirus and other pandemic and epidemic diseases | Image Credit: Aleksandr Vorobev -

Aleksandr Vorobev -

If soap and water are not readily available, then hand sanitizers are an effective option for hand hygiene. However, hand sanitizers do not remove all germs. Frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds remains the most effective way of removing germs.3 In fact, handwashing is more effective than hand sanitizers in removing certain germs, such as Clostridioides difficile; Cryptosporidium, a parasite that causes diarrhea; and Norovirus.3

Patients should select hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol.3 This information can typically be found on the OTC drug facts label on the back of hand sanitizer products under “active ingredients.” Reviewing the proper technique for applying hand sanitizers is also important. Patients should rub sanitizer over all areas of the hands, including the backs of the hands and between the fingers.3 Additionally, individuals should not rinse hands before the hand sanitizer dries. Adults should supervise young children using hand sanitizer to prevent accidental ingestion. If accidental ingestion occurs, it is critical to contact poison control at 1-800-222-1222.2

Product Overview

The FDA has published a list of hand sanitizers the public should avoid.4 These products contain inadequate quantities of alcohol or methanol (wood alcohol), or make inaccurate claims.4 Methanol can cause serious adverse effects if absorbed through the skin.5 Additionally, methanol ingestion can cause blindness and death.5

Purell products contain 70% alcohol, and they are available in travel sizes.6 They also include inactive ingredients to help with skin care. Germ-X is another option.7 The original products contain 62% alcohol, along with moisturizers and vitamin E.7 The Germ-X Advanced formulation contains 70% alcohol, which is the same as the Purell formulations.7 Germ-X products are also available in travel sizes. Dove hand sanitizer contains 61% alcohol, along with moisturizer.8 Additionally, there are travel sizes available. Pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart have their own brands of alcohol-based hand sanitizers that include travel sizes.

About The Author

Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh, PACS, is a drug information pharmacist and Pharmacy Times contributor residing in South Florida.


1. Standards respond to public health crises. United States Pharmacopeia. Accessed April 25, 2023. rapidly,production%20pathways%20to%20meet%20demand

2. Safely using hand sanitizer. FDA. Updated April 12, 2023. Accessed April 26, 2023.

3. Hand sanitizer use out and about. CDC. Updated August 10, 2021. Accessed April 26, 2023.

4. FDA updates on hand sanitizers consumers should not use. FDA. Updated March 3, 2023. Accessed April 26, 2023.

5. Q&A for consumers: hand sanitizers and COVID-19. FDA. Updated May 17, 2022. Accessed April 26, 2023.

6. Purell bottled sanitizer. Gojo. Accessed April 26, 2023.

7. Germ-X. Accessed April 26, 2023.

8. Dove hand sanitizer. Dove. Accessed April 26, 2023.

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