Coronavirus (covid-19) is highly contagious. This has caused people to clear out shelves of hand sanitizer across Kenya. If available, most have been marked up. Most supermarkets now have limits on how many “anti-viral” products can be purchased by a single shopper. The government had to intervene by announcing that it will be manufacturing and distributing its own hand sanitizer to address the shortages and price hike.
The shortages and buying limits have motivated Kenyans to make their homemade hand sanitizers using recipes from countless blogs, facebook, twitter and even pharmacies. However, just because these recipes are available does not mean you should follow them.
Why you should not make your own hand sanitizer
First, the Centers of Disease Control recommends hand washing over use of sanitizer, unless you are not able to access water and soap.
Second, the method that you may want to use may not be verified. The end products may not also be verified for safety for use on human skin.
Lastly, experts caution that making homemade hand sanitizer is not as easy as it has been made to appear. If you don’t get the concentration right, you may end up with something that is ineffective or too harsh for your skin. This is a waste of ingredients.
The CDC Control recommends at least 60% alcohol in hand sanitizers, which store-bought sanitizers have. Trying to replicate this on your own is a tall order.
Official Hand Sanitizer Formulas
The World Health Organization has guidelines for making hand rubs (term used for hand sanitizers). However, these guidelines are designed for medical professionals, not the average consumer. The guidelines call for denatured alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, glycerol (a.k.a glycerin), hydrogen peroxode and sterile water. The concentration of alcohol in the final product must be measured using an alcoholometer to ensure it is efficient in killing germs and safe for your skin.
Including dyes, essential oils or other fragrances is not recommended by the recipe. These could cause an allergic response– a lot of homemade recipes for hand sanitizers call for essential oils to mask the smell of alcohol.
In its temporary guidelines for making hand sanitizers to pharmacists and other manufacturers released on March 20-2020, FDA recommends use of pharmacy-grade ingredients, testing the level of alcohol in the final product, and labelling the finished product.
Recipes for homemade hand sanitizers
Most of the recipes out there use a blend of 91% or 99% isopropyl alcohol (commonly known as rubbing alcohol) and aloe vera gel. Aloe vera is necessary because it adds moisture to the skin since alcohol causes a drying effect. The typical ratio is two thirds rubbing alcohol to one third of a cup of aloe vera gel.
It is difficult to come up with a hand sanitizer with the right concentration of alcohol, even if you follow the recipe. Controlling how the alcohol gets diluted in the final product is not an easy task. If you fail to add enough aloe gel, the hand sanitizer will dry out the skin on your hands, which can cause skin cracking or even bleeding.
Failure to use sufficient alcohol will render the sanitizer ineffective at killing germs, rendering it basically useless.
Keep off recipes that call for use of vodka or spirits because you need a high proof liquor to get the right concentration of alcohol by volume. This is because most liquor is mixed with water. If you mix a standard proof vodka (80-proof) with aloe, you’ll get a hand sanitizer with alcohol concentration of less than 40%.
What should you do instead?
Wash your hands. The ministry of health recommends that this is the best thing you can do right now to protect yourself from getting sick, either from coronavirus or anything else. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, many times per day.
Keep your hands off your face, especially when they are dirty.
If you are determined to prepare your own hand sanitizer, avoid any recipes that don’t use at least 60% alcohol.