Since I’ve been studying triclosan and hand soaps for the past week (The weekly dose: are antimicrobial hand washes beneficial?), you could say handwashing has been weighing heavily on my mind. Again, nothing new and crazy here, but just some reflections from everything that I’ve read.
The Harvard Health Letter(1) reminded me that the amount of time I take to wash my hands matters. This letter said that washing your hands for 15 seconds, which is about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” (really?! I would have guessed that took longer than 15 seconds...), reduces bacterial counts by about 90%, but if you spend 30 seconds washing your hands the bacterial counts drop close to 99.9%.
Perhaps one way to make sure you spend a long enough time washing your hands would be to recite a memory verse-- or post one next to your sink and wok on memorizing it. If you wash your hands 10 times a day, for 30 seconds each, that would be 5 minutes. Could we more purposefully use this time than just letting our minds wander?
In some ways, this next fact doesn’t fit with what the Harvard Health letter stated at all. I’m not quite sure how to perfectly harmonize these statements, but, I don’t think this fact annuls the importance of taking your time when you wash your hands.
The double-blind study that compared soap uses in inner-city households found that about one-third of participants had higher microbial counts on their hands after washing them then before washing their hands(2). When I first read this in the abstract, I thought I didn’t understand what the authors were looking at, or misunderstanding what they were actually saying. But yes, they did find that sometimes microbial counts go up after washing your hands. The authors accounted this to increased skin shedding during washing, which is caused by the mechanical friction of rubbing your hands together. However, even though they measured this increase, it would be wrong to conclude that washing your hands is of not use. This study followed the participants for one year, and there were significant reductions in all microbial counts after a year. This indicated that sustained and consistent hand hygiene practices do significantly reduce microbial counts over time, even if a single wash doesn’t make a huge difference. This is a fascinating study with some interesting discussion if you want a good read...
A good take away would be to wash consistently and thoroughly, dry gently, and remember to use moisturizer to avoid skin flaking/extreme dryness.
I know this isn’t anything mind-blowing, but I find it interesting to examine common practices to see if there’s actual evidence to back it up. And yes, I believe there is evidence to support the importance of hand washing.
(1) The Handiwork of Good Health. Harvard Health Letter. 2007 Jan;32(3):1-3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17323497. Accessed 1/28/2013.
(2) Larson E, Aiello A, Lee LV, Della-Latta P, Gomez-Duarte C, Lin S. Short- and long-term effects of handwashing with antimicrobial or plain soap in the community. J Community Health. 2003 Apr;28(2):139-50. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12705315. Accessed 1/30/13.