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A Latina Nursing Student Invented Hand Sanitizer in the ’60s

Hand sanitizer is currently the hottest commodity in the wake of the spread of Covid-19 and we have a Latina nurse to thank for inventing it. News stories have begun circulating that attribute the idea of hand sanitizer to a student nurse from Bakersfield named Lupe Hernandez, who reportedly came up with it in 1966. The Guardian reports that she came to the realization that alcohol combined with gel could be used when soap and water weren’t available and so she called an inventions hotline and registered the patent.

Judging by the common use of hand sanitizer — even before the Coronavirus hit — it’s interesting to note that it wasn’t until 2002 that the CDC began recommending the use of hand sanitizer. Originally Hernandez had developed it to be used in hospitals and it wasn’t until companies including Purell commercialized it in 1997 that it became available to the public. Gojo Industries developed Purell and it has about 25 percent of the U.S. hand sanitizer market, generating more than $370 million in revenue in 2018, according to IBISWorld.  Similar to the outbreak now, sanitizer was also in high demand after severe acute respiratory syndrome conditions like SARS in 2003 and the H1N1 “swine flu” in 2009. With the current scarcity of hand sanitizers, many are resorting to homemade hand sanitizers including a simple recipe of 99 percent isopropyl (aka rubbing alcohol), pure aloe vera gel and essential oils.

But it’s important to note that washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is still more effective. Hand sanitizer should be used when soap and water aren’t accessible.

Hand sanitizer is a good way to disinfect when you don’t have access to soap and water between hand washes,” Dr. Andrew Alexis, MD, chair of Mount Sinai’s department of dermatology tells Women’s Health. But it needs to contain at least 60 percent alcohol to actually work.

Since her story began trending on social media, Hernandez has been recognized for her contribution, no longer a single-sentence attribution in articles about hand sanitizer but the true Latina innovator that is now helping all of us feel safer.

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