Pandemics raise a lot of questions, specifically in the field of public health. If
one occurs, or threatens to occur, scientists rush to figure out what is and
needs to be available to combat the illness - whether that be via treatment or
through the prevention of transmission. The COVID pandemic of the last few
years is no exception. In a few short years, researchers and medical providers
have come together to provide vaccinations, treatments, and literature-
supported recommendations to prevent the transmission of infection. But, as
the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to mutate and change, these public
health initiatives must adapt. So, what else is out there?
An already well-respected antimicrobial class of chemicals, known as
benzalkonium chlorides, holds significant potential. Their use began in the
the early 1900s, gaining market recognition as a potent disinfectant and
antiseptic. These days, benzalkonium chlorides are used in a wide range of
products within the industry, agriculture, clinical medicine, and personal
products. One major reason these chemicals are used in such a widespread
manner is that they are known to be effective with minimal safety
concerns. Other than reports of some skin irritation in sensitive individuals,
one is probably unaware they are using and benefiting from these products.
With the current pandemic, antiviral agents have gained a lot of attention. The
good news is, benzalkonium chloride, though considered a broad-spectrum
antimicrobial, seemingly has some significant potential in adding to the host of
antiviral products used to combat the spread of SARS-CoV-2. It has the ability
to disrupt the lipid membranes of enveloped viruses, thereby
deactivating them– this includes enteroviruses, rotaviruses, norovirus,
influenza virus, rhinoviruses, herpes simplex virus, hepatitis A virus, and
thankfully, coronaviruses. (2)
So, what about SARS-CoV-2, the specific virus responsible for the COVID-19
pandemic still raging worldwide? At first, the research available was scarce,
but as time has gone on more and more has been found supporting the use of
benzalkonium chlorides in the prevention of SARS-CoV-2 spread and
One study published in early 2021 tested the effectiveness of 0.2%
benzalkonium chloride and 0.13% benzalkonium Qimei Hand Sanitizing Wipes.
This was important, especially since there has been a shortage of alcohol-
based sanitizers throughout the pandemic, due to alcohol-based sanitizers
being the only option recommended by the CDC. Hospitals and outpatient
healthcare professionals needed another option. The scientists in this study
found that both concentrations were effective in deactivating the SARS-
CoV-2 virus. In their discussion, they cited that in some situations, the
benzalkonium chloride-based products might be even more effective than
the alcohol-based products because they were non-toxic and less
irritating to the skin than alcohol-containing sanitizers, thus resulting in
improved compliance and better hand hygiene compliance from
healthcare workers. These researchers felt so strongly about the data, they
concluded benzalkonium chloride-containing sanitizers should be given the
same expedited approval to manufacturers, making these products more
available worldwide. (3)
Hand sanitizers and topical disinfectants arenʼt the only places benzalkonium
chlorides can provide assistance. A study by Tunon-Molina, et al in late 2021
decided to look into whether these chemicals could be used in personal
protective equipment used by healthcare providers, specifically facial
protection. Their goal was to develop a transparent face shield with intrinsic
antimicrobial activity, thereby reducing surface transmission of disease and
the production of infectious waste, another source of potential transmission
to healthy individuals. They found that their single-use face shields, made
by coating a transparent polyethylene terephthalate product with
benzalkonium chloride, were successful at inactivating enveloped
viruses, including coronaviruses. Their hope is that this novel idea can be
translated for use in goggles, helmets, and other forms of personal
protective equipment in the healthcare setting. (4)
At HCD Anti-Aging Laboratories, benzalkonium chloride is added to
manicure and pedicure formulas for its antimicrobial actions, but it is
obvious there is more to the story when it comes to these compounds.
Though more research needs to be done in the personal-care product realm,
it is likely that its presence is preventing the spread of not only bacterial or
fungal infections but also of viral infections, specifically against our biggest
current adversary, the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Dr. Mary Hall, ND, LAc
Medical Writer and Medical Advisory Board
Beatriz Merchel Piovesan Pereira and Ilias Tagkopoulos. 2019.
Benzalkonium chloride: uses, regulatory status, and microbial resistance.
Appl Environ Microbiol: 85(13):e00377-19.
"Exploring whether Benzalkonium Chloride could be effective against
SARS-CoV-2”. 2021. Pharmaceutical Technology.
Ogilvie, B.H., Solis-Leal, A., Lopez, J.B., Poole, B.D., Robison, R.A., Berges,
B.K. 2021.Alcohol-free hand sanitizer and other quaternary ammonium
disinfectants quickly and effectively inactivate SARS-CoV-2. J Hosp Infect:
Tunon-Molina, A., Marti, M., Muramoto, Y., Noda, T., Takayama, K.,
Serrano-Aroca, A. 2021. Antimicrobial face shield: next generation of facial
protective equipment against SARS-CoV-2 and multidrug-resistant bacteria.
Int J Mol Sci: 22(17): 9518.