Fact 1: It works. It can be as effective as soap and water. But soap loosens dirt and bacteria off the skin and helps wash it down the drain; sanitizers kill viruses and bacteria. So if your child has any dirt or grime on his hands, he should wash them instead.
Fact 2: The dose is important. Kids need to cover their hands entirely with a nickel- or quarter-size dollop. And they should get some under their nails by scraping their palms. Don't let them wipe any off on their pants; that reduces effectiveness.
Fact 3: Ingredients matter. Products with any less than 60 percent alcohol aren't effective and may actually encourage bacterial growth. It's best for now to stick with traditional alcohol-based gels.
Fact 4: Babies shouldn't use it. Their skin is very thin and delicate, so the chance of alcohol absorption is high. Still, there are rarely major effects from exposure in kids under 6, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
Originally published in the November 2010 issue of Parents magazine.
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