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Continuous Use of Hand Sanitizer Makes Skin Dry, Itchy-Experts

Dr. Malik Ssempereza, a dermatologist, says the continued use of alcohol-based sanitiser can irritate the skin. “Alcohol-based sanitiser helps to kill germs, and it is more useful now in the COVID 19 era; however, it dries out the skin and can irritate people with sensitive skin. It can cause itching, drying and scaling, with development of rashes in some people,” he said.
A lady sanitizing her hands

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The use of hand sanitiser has become a norm because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The use of the alcohol-based sanitiser is one of the preventive measures that the Ministry of health recommends for safeguarding against COVID-19 infection.  

With the increase in COVID-19 cases in the country, hand sanitisers have become a must-have with some schools even asking parents to provide them. However, health experts say the frequent use of the wonder products reputed to kill germs in a matter of seconds might lead to other health complications such as peeling of the skin.

Skin experts say that while sanitisers containing at least 65 percent alcohol can kill disease-causing germs in hands, they can also change the skin pH and texture.  The skin has a mildly acidic pH that ranges from 4.7 to 6.5 depending on the part of the body. Most sanitisers have a neutral pH of 7 or above. Doctors say prolonged use of hand sanitisers can change the pH of the hands to alkaline or above a pH of 7 leading to reactions like itchy skin, dry or even peeling skin. 

Dr. Malik Ssempereza, a dermatologist, says the continued use of alcohol-based sanitiser can irritate the skin. “Alcohol-based sanitiser helps to kill germs, and it is more useful now in the COVID 19 era; however, it dries out the skin and can irritate people with sensitive skin. It can cause itching, drying and scaling, with development of rashes in some people,” he said. 

Dr. Samuel Mugoya, a skin specialist at Mulago National Referral Hospital says that the continued use of alcohol can affect the skin. However, he says more research is needed to determine the severity of the effect they can have on the skin.

“Ethanol is the active ingredient in sanitisers and it can affect the skin, but we do not know to what level at the moment or how bad the situation can become later on. More detailed research is needed to determine how long it takes for the skin to start reacting to the sanitizers and what happens with prolonged use,” he said.  URN spoke to a few people found using hand sanitisers in the city. While some were aware of the effects of the frequent use of the products others were surprised to discover that there might be side effects associated with continuous use of the cleaning agents.

  Faith Magoba, a 70-year-old retired teacher, who resides in Kampala, told URN that she takes extra care when choosing a sanitiser to avoid having dry hands. She says she now uses sanitisers that do not make the hands dry.

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Aggrey Mubiru, an accountant says hand sanitisers are like water and since there are no side effects to using water the same applies to hand sanitisers. “But these things are like using soap and water. When I use them, I see no side effect. I did not know that they can have an effect on your skin, I have not yet seen anything unusual on mine,” Mubiru said. 

Persons who suffer from eczema or other skin conditions are not advised to use hand sanitisers to make the skin dry. Instead of using hand sanitisers, they use soap and water and a moisturizer afterwards to keep the hands moist.  Also, persons who work with chemicals like pesticides and powerful cleaning agents like bleach should keep away from sanitisers because the mixture of chemicals and alcohol can harm the body.

According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, persons who used pesticides and sanitisers were found to have increased levels of pesticides in their bodies compared to those who didn’t use them.   Dr. Ssempereza recommends using Sanitisers with glycerin or even moisturizers often to moisten the skin located around the hand area.


 “I recommend using alcohol sanitisers that contain glycerin. Glycerin helps to maintain moisture in the skin and prevents over-drying irritation. Most people react to perfumes in the sanitisers, so I recommend using perfume-free sanitisers. Always apply pure petroleum jelly frequently if you have sensitive skin,” he advises.

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