The difference between a sanitizing product and a disinfectant and why a cosmetic cannot be a disinfectant

These days it is appropriate to make the distinction between two terms that are often used, wrongly and illegally, as synonyms on some cosmetic product labels.

Products with sanitizing action and products with disinfectant action are very different from each other and have very distinct properties that we should all be aware of.

So what is the difference between sanitation and disinfection?

It is good, first of all, to specify the difference in Italian legislation between sanitizing and disinfecting action.
These two very distinct actions express two very different concepts in substance, namely the sanitizing and disinfecting.

According to the MINISTRIAL DECREE of July 7, 1997, n. 274 “Regulations for the implementation of articles 1 and 4 of Law n. 82 of January 25, 1994, for the regulation of cleaning, disinfection, disinfestation, deratization and sanitization activities”:

  • “cleaning activities are those that concern the complex of procedures and operations aimed at removing dust, unwanted material or dirt from surfaces, objects, confined spaces and areas of pertinence;”
  • “pest control activities are those that concern the complex of procedures and operations aimed at destroying small animals, in particular arthropods, either because they are parasites, vectors or reserves of infectious agents or because they are harassing and unwanted plant species”.

To sanitize means to thoroughly clean a surface, removing bacteria and harmful substances.
Disinfecting means removing 99.99% of harmful bacteria.

Disinfectants are medical surgical devices; while sanitizers can be cosmetic. Cosmetics are those products whose main purpose is to protect and maintain the skin in good condition and as a secondary function an antibacterial effect. Disinfectants are biocides or surgical medical devices that have as their main purpose the bactericidal action.

Sanitizing substances are active against pathogens, but are not considered disinfectants as they are not authorized by the Ministry of Health as medical and surgical devices.

Each Medical Surgical Presidium is issued with a registration number that must be strictly reported on the package. All products that are not Surgical Medical Presidium but have antibacterial activities, are in fact simple detergents and nothing assures us of their real effectiveness for the elimination of bacteria.


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