In a day and age where hygiene is on the forefront of everyone's minds and products like hand sanitizer and soap are nearly impossible to purchase, an Iowa-based company that has worked for a decade to gain footing is suddenly on the cutting edge of a growing industry.
Jim Patchett, chairman of the board, and Dave Wears, CEO, are the partners behind Muscatine's Prefense. Their company aspires to provide cutting-edge and healthier hygiene in the form of their alcohol-free hand sanitizer that provides 24-hour protection for skin. But it hasn't always been easy.
"We scratched and clawed for the last 11 years when the marketplace just didn't really understand our technology," Jim said. "The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just don't understand a product that can keep skin or surfaces free of germs for so long -- but we are working to change that."
With the advent of COVID-19 crisis, it seems people are willing to try new, longer-lasting products. Last year the company prepared their normal 12-month supply of Prefense. Their entire backstock sold by the end of March.
Despite the uptick in demand, it took some hard work to prove that Prefense is worth it.
"The big stumbling block was that the CDC developed umbrella hand sanitizing guidelines in 2002 which recommended that hand sanitizers needed to have alcohol," Jim said. The FDA, however, allows for active ingredients.
While alcohol (at concentrations under 70%) has a strong and rapid initial kill, it evaporates in about 30 seconds and provides no residual antimicrobial protection, meaning it provides no protection once it dries.
"Alcohol is just not good for your skin. And you must keep using it over and over, anytime you touch something, because it only kills germs when it is wet. Repeated use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause drying and cracking of the skin, be harmful to children and pets and can lead to a sense of being protected despite rapid recontamination from touching surfaces or personal contact after using it, leading to overconfidence and lax hygiene," Jim said.
Prefense started as a product to help with water filtration and disinfection. In 2008, the company teamed with researchers at Iowa State University's Institute for Food Safety and Security to test its effectiveness on skin.
Ultimately, the product was approved by both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use in non-potable water treatment and the FDA for use in skin applications. The technology is based on a commonly-used ingredient that has been in the market since the 1930s, but uses a revolutionary process to help extend its protection over long periods.
Their alcohol-free hand sanitizer, which creates an "invisible glove" after the sanitizer dries, hit the market in late 2009. While this is the company's main product, Prefense also creates other disinfection products through several Muscatine partnerships.
"We have a big Muscatine presence with a large team from all over the Midwest," Dave said. "It's not only a good thing to say we're 'Made in the USA,' it's good business to give back to a U.S.-based supply chain and Iowa's economy. We love telling people that we export to China!"
In the works is a new line of surface disinfection products, designed to keep surfaces 99.9% free of germs for up to 60 days. It's safe to say the team at Prefense is excited for what the future holds.
"With the advent of the COVID-19 crisis, we have had to rapidly shift gears in terms of research, production and distribution," Jim said. "We will continue to do our part to promote domestic and global health and wellbeing."