History of Hand Hygiene

Now that hand hygiene has made it to the front pages of most newspapers and magazines it’s probably a good idea to look at how it all started. 

Ancient disinfectant - 2nd century
The first mentions of ethanol as a means to disinfect wounds was in the 2nd century by the Greek physician Claudius Galenos. He was one of the most influential figures of his time in the history of medicine and started experimenting with alcohol and its sterilizing properties on various gladiators.

Modern Usage - 1800s
However, it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the use of hygiene standards in medical environments was formalized. Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor noticed that the women giving birth in the medical student/doctor-run maternity ward in his hospital were much more likely to develop a fever and die compared to the women giving birth in the adjacent midwife-run maternity ward. He decided to investigate, seeking differences between the two wards and realized that doctors and medical students often visited the maternity ward directly after performing an autopsy.

This is when they first used chlorine to wash the hands of doctors and the results were tremendous. Infection rates went down significantly and there seemed to be direct causation between disinfecting the hands and potentially lethal infections. However, as is often the case with early innovators, Semmelweis’ discovery was not popular with everyone, especially not with his fellow doctors who didn’t like the notion of their work being associated with transmitting bacteria and viruses.

Consequently, Semmelweis did not receive the appreciation that he deserved for his discovery and recommendations and it took around a century for handwashing to gain widespread acceptance. 

The invention of hand sanitizer & first hygiene guidelines - 1960s onwards
While the use of alcohol has been present since the late-1800s, the exact origins of the invention of hand sanitizers are unclear. 

One story revolves around Lupe Hernandez, a nursing student in Bakersfield, California in 1966, who was looking for a way to deliver disinfecting alcohol by combining it with a gel-like solution. This combination was supposed to be used for doctors as a replacement for soap and water. However, a recent investigation by historian Joyce Bedi was unable to trace any evidence or patent listed under the name of Hernandez throughout the 1960s.  

During a series of foodborne outbreaks in the 1980s, the US CDC realized that good hygiene was an effective deterrent against the spread of infection and started publishing guidelines that have been followed since.

Besides these stories, there is also Sterilium, for which the German company Hartmann claims to have answered the question of how to make good hand sanitizer early on and introduce “the world’s first marketable alcohol-based hand disinfectant” when it entered the market in 1965. The product consisted of 75% alcohol and glycerin.

Lastly, others attribute the innovation to Goldie and Jerrie Lippmann, who created the famous GOJO Hand Cleaner for industrial plant workers in 1946. While it only contained 5% alcohol, it was one of the first grease and dirt cleaning solutions for the hand. As the company attempted to remain innovative, they introduced an isopropyl hand sanitizer, called Purell, over forty years later in 1998. Nowadays, this product has become of the most known and best-selling hand sanitizer solutions around the world.

Even though we cannot be certain of whom to actually attribute the invention of the hand sanitizer, who knew that this invention would have been so popular today and we continue to use it as part of our daily hand hygiene routine. We have come a long way over the last few decades and thankfully, hand hygiene sanitizers are here to stay. Effective, easy-to-use, and at the same time moisturizing hand sanitizers, such as adrop’s unique formula (link), are the only way forward to have clean, soft hands and prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

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