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VERIFY: Can hand sanitizer change skin pH levels, making you more vulnerable to coronavirus?

Hand sanitizer can make your skin less acidic and more alkaline, but there's no evidence that it makes you more susceptible to infections.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — QUESTION:

Can hand sanitizer change your skin's pH level? If so, will that make you more susceptible to infections and viruses like the coronavirus? 

ANSWER:

Yes, hand sanitizer can make your skin less acidic and more alkaline. An easy way to counteract this is to use moisturizer. 

No, there is no evidence that using hand sanitizer makes you more vulnerable to infections or viruses, experts say.

SOURCES:

Dr. Adam Friedman: Professor and Chair of the Department of Dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Dr. Mary Stevenson: Dermatologic Surgeon at NYU Langone Health

Dr. Carrie Kovarik: Associate Professor of Dermatology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania 

American Academy of Dermatology

PROCESS:

Experts maintain that washing hands is one of the first lines of defense against the coronavirus, and if soap and water are not available, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

As the demand for hand sanitizer continues, some on social media are claiming the use of such products can do more harm than good, claiming hand sanitizers can damage the pH levels in the skin making users more vulnerable to bacteria or a virus.

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So we're verifying: is this claim true?

To get answers we spoke with three skin experts. They explained that your skin’s pH level is related to skin hydration and that alcohol in hand sanitizers can leave your skin parched, changing the pH.

"Most hand sanitizers are either neutral or basic pH, meaning seven or up, and our skin likes to be acidic," Dr. Adam Friedman said. "It ranges between 5.5- 6.5, so if all you do is use hand sanitizer it can be problematic." 

Friedman says you can reverse that by applying moisturizer on damp skin.

"For a lot of basic functionalities of the skin...they all require an acidic pH below that seven," Friedman said. "When you raise the acidity, meaning go to more basic, these various machinery stop working, but also at a higher pH certain bacteria actually can thrive and overgrow. This is why it's so important to counteract that by using moisturizers as well." 

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So we can verify that hand sanitizer can dry your hands out causing the pH to alter. But does it make you more susceptible to viruses?

Not exactly, our experts said. If your skin becomes dry and cracked you’re weakening your armor to protect against germs and bacteria, but there’s no evidence that you become more vulnerable to COVID-19.

"People worry if the pH changes, let’s say you get some skin breakdown, fissures in your skin, that the virus is going to enter that way," Dr. Mary Stevenson said. "To the best of our knowledge that is not how the virus is entering. It’s entering through your respiratory airway through your nasal mucosa and these are the places we want to avoid touching."

Dr. Carrie Kovarik agrees.

"Coronavirus does not infect people through cuts in the skin as far as we know," she said. "The main mode of transmission is through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes." 

The American Academy of Dermatology backs that up and said we should believe everything we read online. 

All of our experts say continue using hand sanitizer, soap and water, and make sure to counteract dry skin with lotion.

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