Not All Hand Sanitizers Are the Same

One of the best ways to keep your toddlers healthy during flu and cold season is to keep their hands clean. A good washing with soap and water is very effective in reducing the spread of contaminants that may make your kids sick. But frankly it can be tough to get our little ones to wash up, and even tougher to get them to scrub thoroughly and often enough to do get the job done – especially when you’re out and about.

Hand sanitizers, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, are both a time-saver and hassle-reducer for busy parents. With a little squirt of gel, about 99.9 percent of the germs that cause illness can be history – even the H1N1 virus. These are a great advance for keeping families healthy.

Not all hand sanitizers are the same. Some depend on ethyl alcohol, some on the quaternary ammonia chemical benzalkonium chloride (sometimes labeled “Alcohol Free!” to imply that it’s safer), and some on Thymol, a safe, plant-based ingredient that gets the job done. Of the three types, I prefer Thymol for thumb-sucking toddlers, although I’m not opposed to using alcohol-based sanitizers on young children if that’s what’s available.

If you’re using any hand sanitizers on your little ones, I suggest you supervise. Rub the gel in thoroughly and keep your child in sight until it dries. Evaporation is your friend. If your child’s thumb starts moving towards the mouth immediately after application, don’t panic, but do try to distract him for a few minutes if you can.

For effective hand washing, I teach kids to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or “The Alphabet Song” while washing to remind them to scrub long enough and hard enough to make a difference. Besides washing before meals, the most important times to wash are after sneezing or coughing, after using the toilet, upon leaving “high-risk” places such as doctors’ offices, daycare centers, playgrounds, etc, and always upon arriving home.

Published on: December 04, 2009
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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