Young man cleaning hands, using hand sanitizer over sink, to prevent spreading virus. Corona virus prevention and contention measures and personal hygiene.

Our hands comprise surfaces, appendages, valleys between the appendages, ridges and nails; in short, many places that can harbor bacteria and virus droplets, on both the palmar and dorsal sides.

Many entities — including the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) , FDA and World Health Organization — have long recommended we wash our hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap before, during and after preparing food; and after using the toilet, touching garbage or coughing, among other situations.

Now with coronavirus (COVID-19) in our midst, hand sanitation has taken on new importance. Experts say hands should be cleaned after touching any surface and before touching one’s face (eyes, nose and mouth).

In addition to hand-washing with soap and water, hand-sanitizing products provide a potent between-washings way of damaging the coronavirus and stopping its spread.

MASSAGE Magazine spoke with several sales and manufacturing representatives of companies that sell hand sanitizer, to answer your questions about how this type of product works; how it should be used — and how often — and why it can be an important part of a massage therapist’s cleaning protocol.

“How Does Hand Sanitizer Work?”

Washing with soap and water is the gold standard of hand cleanliness. This is because you can generally reach more surface area — in between all the peaks and valleys, between fingers and under nails most easily with this type of cleaning, and water rinses away what’s left of any virus fragments. Both soap and sanitizer can damage or destroy the outer membrane of the coronavirus. (Watch this TEDEd video on exactly how soap and sanitizers break down the coronavirus (COVID-19).)

Hand sanitizers that contain at least 70% alcohol (either ethyl or isopropyl) kill bacteria and viruses by breaking down their proteins and membranes, said Lisa Pantera, director of operations for Massage Warehouse, which offers a variety of sanitizing products.

“This is not specific to just COVID-19 but most viruses and bacteria, and the reason why the increased use of hand sanitizer is such a critical role in infection control for everyone,” she said.

Sanitizer also damages the virus’s outer membrane, and is considered an important between-soap-and-water means of maintaining cleanliness. The CDC recommends using an alcohol-based “hand rub” with greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol in health care settings. Just as with washing with soap and water, sanitizer must be rubbed thoroughly on the entire surface of the hands, for several seconds.

“How Often Should I Use Hand Sanitizer?”

Hand sanitizer is convenient; a small bottle can be kept in a pocket while a larger pump-action bottle can be left on a counter for use by both therapists and clients when soap and water aren’t readily available. But how often should you use it? In general, you can’t wash or sanitize your hands too much, as long as the coronavirus is among us.

“I think we are at a point where people will use some type of hand sanitizer multiple times per day on a regular basis,” said Joe Freeman, chief executive officer of MedZone, a hand sanitizer and skin-care company. “The pandemic has caused a refocus to cleanliness to help prevent bacteria and viruses, and just to be healthier.”

You should use hand sanitizer frequently — and any time you are touching such high-touch surfaces as door handles and countertops that other people touch, according to Tara Grodjesk, vice president of Spa and Wellness Products at Earthlite spa and therapeutic equipment company. “Use [hand sanitizer] before your treatment, in between and immediately after the massage treatment,” she said.

According to Pantera, a massage therapist should use hand sanitizer upon entering a room with the client in the absence of soap and water, similar to how a medical professional behaves upon entering a patient’s room, to minimize the risk that any outside contaminants are not carried to that client.

“The same holds true for a therapist leaving a client’s room after a service, to minimize the risk that any germs from clients [could] leave the treatment room or spread throughout the practice,” she said. “Therapists should also be using sanitizer throughout the day after dealing with common-use areas such as on site laundry, break rooms and the front desk area.”

The Bigger Picture

This is a critical time for massage therapists to take a close look at their practices and re-think how they will re-open in a way that ensures the entire environment — treatment room, table, linens, supplies and surfaces — are as safe as possible for their clients, said Grodjesk, and using hand sanitizer is a best practice that massage therapists should adhere to during this pandemic and beyond.

 “Cleanliness, proper protections and sanitization are going to be ever more important to assure your clients a safe treatment experience and that you are professional and abiding by the recommended guidelines,” she said.

One of the best ways to your appointment book full when you re-open is to give apprehensive clients confidence in the precautions being taken to keep them as safe as possible, said Faith Flatt, director of events at the company Real Time Hand Sanitizer.

“Visibly applying hand sanitizer before and after the massage will offer peace of mind,” said Flatt. “Making hand sanitizer dispensers easily available to the client before and after the massage is another way to highlight increased precautions.”

Additionally, by continuing to use sanitizers and soaps and making hand hygiene a number-one priority, massage therapists will decrease the risks of other diseases and viruses, said Freeman.

“By putting a focus on keeping clean. all of us will be better in the future,” he said. “Hand sanitizers are great addition to our daily hygiene tool kit, and we expect them to be around for many years to come — because cleanliness is an aspect of our lives that needs to be a habit long after this current virus goes away.”

About the Author:

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief. Her reporting on coronavirus (COVID-19) includes “Voices of COVID-19: Massage Therapists Share Stories of Challenge & Hope” and “Best Practices for Maintaining Safety & Sanitation in a Massage Practice: An Interview with Educator Anne Williams, LMT.”