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Are You Washing Your Hands Properly?

Posted in General Health 13 Oct, 2015

October 15th is 'Global Handwashing Day'. This campaign aims to increase awareness across the world of the importance of regularly washing your hands to prevent the spread of disease. In fact, campaigners say that 'hand-washing with soap is a do-it-yourself vaccine'.

You're probably thinking okay, I understand the need for this campaign in countries where people don't always have access to running water, but surely this doesn't apply in the UK? Well actually you may be horrified to know that a recent study found that just 38% of men and 60% of women washed their hands after using the toilet. Blergh. Am I the only one who thinks it's weird that grown-ups need to be told to wash their hands?

So yes, washing your hands with soap and water is important. But on the flip side, for those of us who do like things clean, antibacterial soap, gel, spray, kitchen wipes, clothes and mattresses have become the norm, such is our obsession with germs.

Unfortunately a few recent studies have suggested that antibacterial hand wash is not the all-conquering germ killer we thought. It seems that a good old soap bar is just as good as, if not better, than the antibacterial version.

Why Wash Your Hands?

Do it, because it prevents the spread of human-to-human germs. Colds, flu, viruses and stomach bugs are all transmitted through body fluids, not by getting chilly or playing with soil. If you wash your hands frequently you're less likely to catch an infection.

If you can't wash them for some reason then at least keep your hands away from your mouth, eyes or nose. When granny told you to wash your hands before dinner she did it for a reason. She was right about the brilliance of the Antiques Roadshow too. It comes to us all.

Why Is Antibacterial Stuff No Better?

In 2014, the soap, bath and shower market (including anti-bacterial products) was worth £638 million in the UK, but a study in Korea has found the ability of anti-bacterial soap to remove bacteria from hands was no more effective than standard soap. Soap doesn't kill germs; it just dislodges them. It's the way your rub your hands that matters, so do it like an evil genius.

The chemicals are bad

Triclosan is a common antibacterial soap ingredient but its safety is under scrutiny. 75% of Americans have traces of it in their urine, blood and breast milk. Yikes! It's infiltrating worse than those loom bands did.

Triclosan is suspected of causing hormone disruption and it's linked to reproductive damage, brain and thyroid damage, poor quality sperm and learning problems. Best stick with Imperial Leather then, eh?

The germs are becoming resistant

Research has indicated that antibacterial hand soaps may contribute to the growth of antibiotic resistant 'superbugs'. We all know that's a big problem right now.

The wipes ruin our environment

Baby wipes, face wipes, and yes, antibacterial wipes all take their toll on our environment. If we flush them they end up in our sewerage system and if we bin them they end up in landfill. It's a no win situation - just like the English rugby team's latest performance.

What To Use Instead

If you have no washing facilities to hand, pardon the pun, then a gel hand-rub is a good substitute. Choose a tub of alcohol-based hand sanitizer at 60% alcohol which will kill some germs. Not all though. We can't kill everything and neither should we. Immunity is built from exposure to dirt and germs. Rolling in the mud and fresh air are important activities for children (adults too) as it helps to build their immune systems. If we don't build them they will remain weak and then a superbug will come along that kills us all. So the moral is... Wash your hands with plain old soap and use alcohol-based sanitizer for when you don't have a sink to hand.

Hey - you might even have a cold-free Christmas if you follow this advice. That'll be a first.

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