A new study by experts at the University of Sheffield found that gentle cleansers are just as effective as harsh soaps at killing viruses, such as the coronavirus.
Medical services experts frequently substitute harsh soaps or alcohol-based hand sanitizers with skin-friendly cleansers to treat or prevent irritant contact dermatitis – a typical skin disease which causes red and swollen skin with a dry and damaged surface.
The prevalence and severity of the disease among healthcare professionals increased from 20% to 80% during the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is little evidence to suggest that gentle cleansing products can stop the spread of viruses like the human coronavirus, herpes simplex virus, norovirus, and influenza, despite the widespread use of these products for hand washing.
As part of the study, researchers from the Sheffield Dermatology Research (SDR) group at the University of Sheffield evaluated a variety of handwashes. These included antibacterial soap, natural soap, foam cleansers and bath wash products, with the team investigating their capacity to kill both enveloped viruses; such as influenza and human coronavirus, which have an additional layer of structural protection; contrasted with non-enveloped viruses, for example, norovirus and adenovirus.
The findings, which were published in the journal Frontiers Virology, show that while gentle cleansers were able to kill viruses with an envelope, non-enveloped viruses were resistant to skin-friendly cleansers and harsh soaps.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Munitta Muthana from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Oncology and Metabolism, said: “Washing our hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds was a fundamental message advocated in the UK to help stop the spread of Covid-19. But for healthcare professionals, who can wash their hands as many as 100 times during a 12 hour shift, this may cause unintended adverse effects.
“Not only does irritant contact dermatitis cause the skin to become inflamed, blister and crack, which increases transmission of bacteria and viruses, it can also lead to less compliance with personal protective equipment (PPE) and inadequate hand washing for fear of making symptoms worse. The disease can also significantly impact workplace productivity.
“For the first time, our study has shown substituting harsh soaps with milder wash products such as gentle cleansers is effective in fighting against enveloped viruses, including human coronavirus, which is very encouraging – especially for those in jobs in which irritant contact dermatitis is an occupational hazard. We also found that using additional agents such as moisturisers to help protect the skin didn’t prevent the products’ antiviral activity, which means we don’t have to use very harsh products on our skin in order to kill viruses. “
Importantly, the study also found that non-enveloped viruses were more resistant to all of the hand washing products tested, including milder solutions and harsh chemicals. The most resilient virus was the norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug.
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