Research Indicates Mild Cleansers Can Kill Viruses Effectively as Intense Soaps – Including Coronavirus

by Tatsuya Nakamura
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Hand Cleansers' Effectiveness

A recent research study suggests that mild hand cleansers can effectively destroy enveloped viruses, including the human coronavirus, though they are less successful against non-enveloped ones such as norovirus. Even with this shortcoming, these cleansers present a feasible alternative for healthcare professionals seeking to safeguard their skin without compromising antiviral defense.

Frequently, healthcare professionals swap alcohol-based hand sanitizers and intense soaps for gentle, skin-friendly cleansers to treat or ward off irritant contact dermatitis.

According to the latest research from scientists at the University of Sheffield, mild cleansers can be as efficient in eradicating viruses, including the coronavirus, as intense soaps.

Healthcare professionals often replace intense soaps or alcohol-based hand sanitizers with gentle skin-friendly cleansers to address or avoid irritant contact dermatitis, a prevalent skin condition that triggers swelling, redness, and damage to the skin surface.

The occurrence and severity of this skin condition among healthcare professionals rose from 20 percent to 80 percent amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the widespread use of mild cleansing products for hand hygiene, there has been a lack of evidence demonstrating the antiviral effectiveness of these products in preventing the spread of various viruses such as the human coronavirus, herpes simplex virus, norovirus, and influenza.

As part of the research, the Sheffield Dermatology Research (SDR) group from the University of Sheffield tested several handwash products, including antibacterial soap, natural soap, foam cleansers, and bath wash products. The team evaluated their ability to eliminate both enveloped viruses (like human coronavirus and influenza) and non-enveloped viruses (like norovirus and adenovirus).

Published in Frontiers in Virology, the findings show that mild cleansers effectively destroy enveloped viruses, while non-enveloped viruses display resistance to both skin-friendly cleansers and intense soaps.

Dr. Munitta Muthana, lead author of the study from the Department of Oncology and Metabolism at the University of Sheffield, stated, “Washing our hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds was a key message advocated in the UK to halt the spread of COVID-19. Yet, for healthcare professionals who may wash their hands up to 100 times during a 12-hour shift, this may lead to unintended negative consequences.”

The study also highlighted that non-enveloped viruses, including norovirus, showed higher resistance across all hand-washing products tested, ranging from harsh chemical substances to milder solutions.

Natalie Winder, Ph.D. Researcher at the Department of Oncology and Metabolism at the University of Sheffield and first author of the study, said, “Even when we extended the exposure of norovirus to the handwashing products from 20 seconds to a minute, the virus remained undisturbed. The only substance which impacted the virus was bleach — but bleach-based hand washes are not viable due to their damaging effects on the skin.”

“Norovirus can spread incredibly quickly — it takes just 18 norovirus particles to infect another person, compared to 1,000 coronavirus particles required to spread the infection. Our findings highlight that although good hand hygiene practices are crucial to preventing the spread of many viruses, they are insufficient at controlling norovirus.”

This study was led by the University of Sheffield and financially supported by CeraVe.

Reference: “Are mild cleansers appropriate for hand hygiene in the COVID era? An in vitro investigation of the antiviral efficacy of different hand hygiene products” by Natalie Winder, Zahra Ashraf, Sara Gohar, Nada Baalbaki, Micheal Cork, Simon Danby, and Munitta Muthana, 6 June 2023, Frontiers in Virology.
DOI: 10.3389/fviro.2023.1180815

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Hand Cleansers’ Effectiveness

Can mild hand cleansers effectively kill viruses?

Yes, a recent study conducted by the University of Sheffield found that mild hand cleansers can effectively kill enveloped viruses, including the human coronavirus.

Do mild hand cleansers work against all types of viruses?

No, the study found that while mild hand cleansers are effective against enveloped viruses such as the coronavirus, they are less successful against non-enveloped ones, such as norovirus.

Why do healthcare professionals often prefer mild cleansers?

Healthcare professionals often swap intense soaps or alcohol-based hand sanitizers with gentle, skin-friendly cleansers to treat or prevent irritant contact dermatitis, a common skin condition causing inflammation, redness, and damage to the skin surface.

How often do healthcare professionals wash their hands during a shift?

During a 12-hour shift, healthcare professionals can wash their hands as many as 100 times, which can lead to skin problems like irritant contact dermatitis.

What is the most resilient virus against hand-washing products?

The study found that non-enveloped viruses, particularly norovirus, demonstrated greater resistance across all types of hand-washing products tested, including harsh chemical substances and milder solutions.

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