Touching your face is so natural a habit, you may not even realize you’re doing it until there’s good reason not to. Hands are a common transmission source for pathogens that can make you sick — including bacteria and viruses — according to a 2015 study in the American Journal of Infection Control. The COVID-19 pandemic is reason enough to stop being so handsy, but that’s often easier said than done. Read on to find out why it’s so important to keep your paws off your mug plus practical tips to stop touching your face at work.
Why it’s so important to not touch your face
While the CDC says COVID-19 spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or sings within six feet of another person, a 2020 study found the aerosol droplets may be able to travel even farther. The droplets can enter a person’s nose, mouth, or eyes and lead to a viral infection. Those droplets can also linger on surfaces for hours and even days, according to a 2020 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. So if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your face, you may become infected with the virus. Thus, the CDC warns people to keep your hands away from your face unless you’ve carefully washed or sanitized them first.
Additionally, wearing nitrile gloves (or any other kind) to protect your hands from germs is not a sure way to prevent transmission. If your glove-clad hands have touched other surfaces, you can introduce those pathogens to your face through touch and even to your hands when you take the gloves off. In fact, the CDC does not recommend that the average person wears gloves at all, unless required to for work, as they are not guaranteed protection from the transmission of COVID-19. The best defense? Wash your hands in hot water and hand soap for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after contact with surfaces.
How often do you touch your face, anyway?
You might think that you don’t touch your face very often. However, research suggests you do it a lot more than you think. According to a 2015 study in the American Journal of Infection Control, people touch their faces more than 20 times an hour. Of those touches, approximately 44 percent of the time your fingers come into contact with a mucous membrane in either the eyes, nose, or mouth.
How to actually stop touching your face
Before we delve into some easy steps to curb face touching, doctor Lea Lis MD (as well as other doctors) recommends trying to assess whether you touch your face consciously or unconsciously. A conscious touch, she explains, is attending to a pimple, putting in contact lenses, or other similar behaviors with a purpose. Unconscious touches are all the other ones you do without thinking, such as rubbing your face when you’re stressed, scratching itches, or even wiping away moisture after a sneeze. These unconscious touches are the ones you want to work hard to observe and stop. She even encourages people to keep a journal to link the causes (or triggers) of unconscious face touching.
But if you don’t have time for such observations, fortunately several practical steps can help you get ahead of this behavior.
Wear glasses instead of contact lenses
Contact lenses can shift and move around during the day, which can lead to poking and probing your eyes. (Remember that COVID-19 can be spread through the mucous membranes of the eyes.) If you wear glasses, be sure you’ve got a solid fit so you don’t push them up and down your face all day.
Clip your hair back
Loose hair can be a source of facial irritation that leads to touching. If your hair is long enough to fall into your face, pull it back and secure it so you won’t be tempted to brush it away from your face.
Keep tissues handy
Some habits are just hard to break. If you’re struggling to let go of face touching, keep a box of clean tissues handy and use one every time you feel the urge to touch your face. This will also be convenient for catching any droplets you may spread if you sneeze or cough.
Wear a face covering
A mask, bandana, or scarf around your face can be a good barrier if you have a hard time not touching your face. However, be sure it fits well so you don’t feel the need to adjust it regularly, which will bring your hands in contact with your face
Post a sticky note to remind yourself not to touch your face
Sometimes a simple visual reminder can be enough to curb your impulse to touch. Try putting a sticky note somewhere that you regularly sit.
Use fidget tools to keep your hands busy
Wear a buzzing electronic bracelet
If you need even more serious help to curb this habit, consider investing in an electronic bracelet that buzzes on your wrist every time you bring one of your hands to face. While this may be a more extreme option, it can help you get out of the habit of touching your face.
Touching your face less may take some time, but with proper hand washing and some of the tools above, you can better protect yourself.