When the pandemic first hit, we were told by health care experts to wash our hands frequently and when running water wasn’t available, to use hand sanitizer containing at least 70% alcohol.
Up until that point, the only time I really used hand sanitizer was when I traveled. With the expert advice in mind, in preparation for the rare, socially-distanced trips outside of the home for food and emergency supplies, I rummaged through my suitcases, my carry-on and my toiletry bag to see what I had on hand. Fortunately, I had a few tiny bottles of Purell left over.
A few weeks prior, I had developed a little cold from the stress and the whirlwind of activity surrounding the house purchase, so I had acquired two tiny bottles of a pharmacy’s home brand which were also added to my stock.
As I started packing for the move, I stumbled upon a few more expired ones that were hiding in the back of my linen closet.
I thought that I had a respectable stock with which I’d be OK for a while, given the sudden scarcity of hand sanitizer, as reported by the news media that seemed to be in Covid-19 hysteria, cramming in as much bad news as they could squeeze into an hour.
Nonetheless, I would keep my eye out for some more, just in case.
Keep in mind that this was all new to everyone. I was actually surprised to see hand sanitizing stations popping up all over the place, something that we now consider normal. That being the case, going into an establishment, I could use their hand sanitizer but when I got back to the car, I could use mine. That measure seemed fair and would help stretch out my private stock.
What a wonderful stroke of innovation and ingenuity it was for the companies who succeeded in pivoting away from their traditional business lines and starting to develop their own hand sanitizers. Suddenly, new brands started lining store shelves everywhere.
Between the new offerings and the sanitizing stations appearing in all establishments, there was no shortage of products to try. That was when I realized that not all hand sanitizers were created equally.
At one hardware store, I recall using a sanitizer that took a ridiculously long time to evaporate, despite my shaking my hands and waving my arms up and down as if I was preparing to take flight. I had practically completed my shopping and was headed to the checkout counter by the time that my hands felt completely dry again.
At one store, I recall a sanitizer so goopy and sticky, I appreciated the paper towels that were left out to wipe off the sticky residue, only to find the paper towels sticking to my hands and not letting go.
At another store, my hands were left so slippery after the sanitizer, the items that I wanted to purchase kept slipping out of my hands and dropping to the floor.
In both of these cases, I was sure that the folks behind the security cameras must have been having fun watching these scenes as if it was an episode of “America’s Funniest Videos”.
When I use hand sanitizer, I accept that it should smell like alcohol. When it evaporates, the smell should dissipate. Does it really need scented additives? There was a particularly strong one that I recall that on the drive home, in the enclosed space of my little car, it started giving me a headache, a sore throat and a runny nose. When I coughed, that was when I noticed the irony in how these precautions were intended to protect from the illness and these very symptoms. I recovered the moment that I got out of the car.
And then there was another strongly scented one that, despite my repeated hand washings during the day, by the time that I turned in for the night, I could still smell it on my hands.
I discovered one brand that had a very bizarre effect, leaving a gritty texture in my hands like I had just played in a sandbox, or just scooped my cat’s litter box. How does that even happen with a substance that is 70% alcohol? What is in the remaining 30%?
And I know this is a common occurrence: hand sanitizer has such a drying effect, that when going through the produce section, I am often perplexed at my inability to open those plastic produce bags, unable to get a good grip. My previous tendency would have been to lick my fingertips to get some kind of moisture going but that would be an extreme no-no during Covid-19.
To me, the gold standard remains Purell (and I say this without compensation from the company). To me, it isn’t sticky, goopy, nor slippery. It dries instantly, and once the alcohol scent fades, it’s gone. I don’t know if there is a special formulation to it, but to me, it does everything a sanitizer should do, and when I start running out of hand sanitizer, that is the brand I look for first.
It is interesting to me how hand sanitizer went from something I bought occasionally and how a bottle could last me for years, to something I now use on a daily basis.
Even if some formulations are maybe less than ideal, I accept that social distancing, face masks and sanitizing are our best line of defense in flattening the curve until such time as the vaccine has become part of the new normal.
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