Newswise — Soap and hand sanitizer are disappearing quickly from store shelves amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic—sanitizer being the rarer find.

But is one more effective than the other? Alexander Chen, M.D., FACP, of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, explains the importance of both:

Which should you buy?

If you’re having trouble finding hand sanitizer and all you have is soap, it’s ok. You’re not stuck with the inferior option.

Both soap and alcohol-based sanitizer are effective for eliminating coronaviruses. “Both methods should disrupt the coating of the virus, while soap also helps remove the virus mechanically,” Chen says.

If you are lucky enough to find a bottle of hand sanitizer, check the label and make sure it has at least 60 percent alcohol content. Sanitizer comes in handy when you’re out and about and a sink isn’t nearby, though you shouldn’t use it if your hands are dirty or greasy.

Antibacterial soap is a good choice, but really “either type of soap will be fine,” Chen says. If your hands become dry from frequent handwashing, use whichever hand lotion you are accustomed to. “I don’t have any preference, but some people may have sensitive skin and can look for products that are hypoallergenic,” Chen says.

Another good thing about that elusive hand sanitizer: most have a moisturizer included.

What about washing your face?

One of the main things you are urged to do to protect yourself from the coronavirus is avoid touching your face (mainly your eyes, nose and mouth). But what if you need to wash your face? Or apply makeup and other facial products? Or floss?

It’s still OK to do the necessary things involving your face—but after you clean your hands thoroughly.

“You should perform hand hygiene before touching your face, including eating and drinking,” Chen says. “Since many of us touch our face without realizing it, try to keep track of where your hands are.”

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (especially after being in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing). When you use sanitizer, cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

“If you are caring for or with anyone who might be sick, perform hand hygiene after you touch anything. In addition, if you are in a high-traffic area, you can use hand sanitizer any time you touch anything that might not be clean,” Chen says.

Try to avoid touching as many surfaces as possible when you’re in public. “I like to keep my hands in my pockets when I’m out, that way I minimize what I touch,” Chen says.

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