12 June 2020
Nikos Katsaros, Head of Human Nutrition & Dietetics Department New York College

Disinfectants are useful as enhancers in washing with lukewarm water and soap to treat pathogenic microorganisms, such as the new Coronavirus Covid- 19.

This virus just like other pathogen viruses structurally  has an outer shell consisting of lipids and proteins.  Due to lipids the shell is easily dissolved by soap and lukewarm water and the Coronavirus is destroyed. However soap and water are not always available while soaping  does not kill all pathogens. This is why in some cases a disinfection may be required .

Disinfectants used on hands and surfaces usually contain alcohols such as a ethanol or isopropanol or butanol at various concentrations, chlorine in various forms and concentrations, or various other chemicals.

Some of them it is believed that they can fight COVID-19 more effectively. Studies with older SARS and MERS infectious coronaviruses have shown that effective against them were disinfectants containing: a) alcohol containing 62-71%, b) chlorine (sodium hypochlorite) at a concentration of 0.1%, or c) hydrogen peroxide with a content of 0.5%.

Chlorine products are only suitable for surfaces because they are very irritating to the skin, while hydrogen peroxide is mainly used as a disinfectant for wounds (oxygen) and surfaces.

The effects they can have on the skin depend on their type. With alcoholic hand antiseptics, a possible consequence may be dry skin, which is usually seen either with poor quality antiseptics or in people with skin sensitivity. Good quality alcoholic antiseptics usually do not cause dry skin, because they contain emollients such as e.g. glycerin that makes them more "friendly" to the skin. However, if a person has a predisposition and sensitivity to the skin, not only can they show dry skin with them, but even dermatitis with mild or severe manifestations.

These problems can occur mainly with repeated, frequent use. Contact dermatitis is characterized by symptoms ranging from mild to very severe, including dryness, irritation, itching, flaking, "cracking" of the skin, or even bleeding and pain.

Another possible effect is allergic contact dermatitis, which represents allergy to antiseptic ingredients, but is not as common. In its more severe forms, which are even rarer, allergic contact dermatitis is accompanied by symptoms of anaphylaxis (difficulty  in breathing, swelling of the face, lips, tongue, etc.).

In addition to sensitivity and predisposition, other factors that increase the risk of dermatitis during the continuous use of antiseptic hands are the perfumes and preservatives they may contain, the constant washing of hands with soap and water after using the antiseptic (this should be done) and the use of gloves while the hands are still wet from the antiseptic or from washing.

Other risk factors are hand washing with hot water and constant drying with poor quality paper towels. Dermatitis is also more likely in those who do not use hand moisturizers regularly.

Chlorine surface disinfectants are powerful and effective, but they are irritating not only to the skin but also to the mucous membranes. When they come in contact with the skin, they can cause toxic or allergic reactions that can lead to the development of skin burns. It is also possible for the skin to absorb a small amount of chlorine.

As for hydrogen peroxide, the disinfectants on the surfaces that contain it should not come into contact with the skin because they can cause reactions such as burns, skin irritation, blisters, itching, dermatitis. Medical oxygen is a special solution, used to disinfect wounds. However, even with this, frequent use or abuse should be avoided.

According to the European Health Protection Agency, we recommend:

  • Carefully read the instructions for use of disinfectants and antiseptics and follow them accurately.
  • Store these products at room temperature, away from moisture and heat.
  • Keep bottles tight when you don’t use them.
  • Do not leave these products exposed to young children.
  • Do not expose large parts of your body to alcoholic antiseptics.
  • Remember that alcoholic antiseptics are flammable. So do not use them close the fire.
  • Wear rubber gloves and keep all windows open when using chlorine. A good idea would be to wear a mask and special eye protectors.
  • Do not mix chlorine  with other cleaners or alcohol. Chlorine should be mixed with cold water following the instructions.
  • Do not use peroxide of hydrogen as a hand antiseptic.
  • After handwashing with soap and water smear them with a good moisturizer as often as you can.

It has been reported that disinfectants in the car at high summer temperatures and exposed to the sun exploded due to the high pressure that develops from the evaporation of alcohol while releasing fire in some cases. It is recommended not to leave disinfectants in the car in the summer.


Subscribe to our newsletter and stay tuned about our news and events!