Hand sanitizer is pretty commonplace, these days, and one brand seems to reign supreme over all the others: Purell. Whether this brand is necessarily better than any other the claims they make in their advertising might lead you to believe that they are. That is because Purell touts that using their hand sanitizer could protect you from the likes of the flu (and also the Ebola virus, the MRSA superbug, and norovirus).
And, apparently, these unsubstantiated claims violate the FDA’s Cosmetic Act.
In a letter to the company, the FDA warned that they are “currently not aware of any adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating killing or decreasing the number of bacteria or viruses on the skin by a certain magnitude produce a corresponding clinical reduction in infection or disease caused by such bacteria or virus.”
In addition, the federal agency expressed they had specific issues with the statement on the Purell website which suggests their sanitizers are, in certain words, “effective in reducing illness or disease-related student and teacher absenteeism.”
Basically, experts advise that alcohol-based sanitizers—like Purell—can be quite effective at killing viruses and bacteria on your hands at the immediate time of use, but they cannot protect against these things an hour later. In other words, while hand sanitizers like Purell can help reduce risk of infection it is not a “preventative measure for flu prevention” as the company’s website claims.
It might be important to note, however, that both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasize that hand washing should be everyone’s primary measure for disease prevention. As a matter of fact, the CDC only recommends that hand sanitizer should be used in the complete absence of soap and water. Furthermore, a 2018 study suggests that certain bacteria may actually develop tolerance to alcohol-based sanitizer—like Purell—over time.