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Alcohol Free Sanitiser: Does it work?


Hand sanitising has now become a way of life for all over the past year, about to touch a door handle? Sanitise your hands after. About to enter a shop? Sanitise your hands. About to eat? Sanitise your hands.

However, while hand sanitiser is a staple in the new Covid world – the same can’t be said for your hand care routine. People have been reaching for alcohol free sanitiser to see if this is a solution to dry and cracked hands – but does alcohol free sanitiser really work? We unmasked some truths…

What is rubbing alcohol?

In beauty and healthcare, the word ‘alcohol’ can be used to refer to either Ethanol or Isopropyl alcohol. They perform essentially the same function and have similar small molecules. Both are used in Hand Sanitisers and you can see on their INCI ingredient list which one is used.

Both are referred to as rubbing alcohols. In simple terms, this means it kills bacteria but doesn’t necessarily prevent their growth i.e it rubs it off. Rubbing alcohol is also known to kill fungus and viruses.

Brands just make a choice of which alcohol to use in a sanitiser. Ethanol is the same alcohol we drink but in sanitiser it will have been made into denatured alcohol. Special bitters are added to ensure it is vile to taste and can’t be consumed by humans.

alcohol free sanitiser

Is a higher percentage of rubbing alcohol in your sanitiser always better?

No, the real sweet spot seems to be between 60-80%. You can buy up to 99% alcohol. There will then be water added to the formula in the remaining %. The water is crucial as it allows the alcohol to penetrate the bacteria cells.

The majority of sanitisers on the market are alcohol based.

What is alcohol free sanitiser?

First of all, alcohol free sanitiser is exactly what it says on the tin – hand sanitiser that is without any alcohol. According to the Government guidelines it states that 60-95% alcohol content is the level needed for it to work to inactivate bacteria and viruses including COVID-19.

However, not everyone wants to use a high percentage alcohol sanitiser through fears that it can be tearing apart your hands – as alcohol naturally strips moisture from the skin. Many schools tend to use alcohol free sanitiser as some religions prohibit the use of alcohol.

Alcohol free sanitisers usually come in the form of a foam and many brands say that this is a gentler approach – this isn’t the case, as many skincare junkies will know! However, the reason alcohol based sanitisers are prioritised in official World Health Organisation and NHS guidance, is that the evidence is much clearer.

What is the EWG database?

This is globally the biggest database of cosmetic ingredients and impact to human health. Green/1 is good through to Red/10 as bad. Even just at first glance you are dealing with Benzalkonium Chloride being listed as a 3-5 rating whereas Ethanol which is the main ingredient of the Proverb/ Most Alcohol based Sanitiser is a Green 1- listing as very little risk to human health.

alcohol free sanitiser uk

Is alcohol free sanitiser effective?

Alcohol free hand sanitisers, from our experience are still effective. However, people tend to purchase these products as they think it will halt dry skin and irritation – when in fact, our experience has shown they are more likely to irritate hands. No-Alcohol sounds like a more friendly formulation, but this is not always the case.

Typically, the formulation will be:

  • 95% water
  • 5% super high-level preservative systems- chloride based.
  • When you are preserving beauty products chlorides might be considered if they need a very drastic preservative, we wouldn’t use them in organic/ natural formulas. 

The clear benefits of this is they are less flammable - often schools look for non-alcohol based sanitisers and they sound gentler or appeal to cultures and faiths - where use of alcohol is not desired.

The negatives:

  • They work by leaving the preservative agents all over your skin, they are meant to stay on there – so, in our experience will be sticky and feel like there is a layer stuck on you. Not to mention, that they can be very irritating to the skin.

  • The risk with children, is that their instinct will be to wipe it off their hands- onto their trousers etc. so they may not be protected at all.

  • WHO and all ongoing advice from Professor Chris Whitty etc. is to use an alcohol- based sanitiser - not chloride-based.

  • You would expect more hand drying/ cracking with this type of product. Once a child has open sores on their hands, then these ingredients have direct access in. If you are super sensitive, they can feel like their skin slightly burn when applied.

  • Shorter lifespan/ shelf life

  • They require more testing as water based. Water is the source of life and will allow for things grow within the formula, so they have to be challenge tested before they go to market – in order to prove they are not allowing microbes, mould, fungi or bacteria to grown in them. There is more risk that over time (2-4 years) the formula may not remain totally stable and have the same efficacy it did when made. The 70% alcohol sanitisers will outlast us all! Remember to keep airtight, they will last for years with no changes!

plastic waste uk

Is sanitiser (alcohol or alcohol free) bad for you and the environment?

It is no surprise that while the world’s population tries to move to a more sustainable and eco solution in day-to-day life – Coronavirus has thought otherwise. With increasing levels of plastic production and disposable masks, it’s no wonder that the public are now question whether or not sanitiser is bad for both themselves and the environment.

According to National Waste company businesswaste.co.uk found that just in the UK alone, up to 10-million empty sanitiser and soap bottles will be thrown away this year.

The number of sales for soap and sanitiser skyrocketed back in February this year by 225%. While most people in Britain regularly make sure to separate their recycling from general waste, experts are worried that the lasting legacy of Coronavirus will be the vast number of hand sanitiser bottles polluting the oceans.

This is why, here at Proverb, we found these statistics staggering and as Proverb is built around sustainability – we wanted to create a sanitiser that would kill bacteria, smell like something you would actually want to spray onto your hands – all while being sustainably sourced and refilled.

The Proverb Refillable Hand Sanitiser does exactly that, it’s completely refillable. Purchase one handy 50ml bottle or slightly larger 250ml bottle for around the home – and you will only ever need to purchase the 1 litre or 5 litre refills after! It’s a win for the environment and your safety.

Micro plastics became a mainstream press ‘baddy ingredient’ when it was revealed many exfoliators had tiny balls of plastic to act as the physical exfoliant which are then washed down the drain and into our water systems. It is a lesser known fact that many gel based sanitisers, whether they are alcohol or non-alcohol based also contain micro plastics.


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