If you had to guess- how many times do you touch your face an hour? According to a 2015 study (Face touching: a frequent habit that has implications for hand hygiene), 26 Australian medical students were found to touch their faces 23 times per hour. Just imagine, during a 12-hour shift viruses and bacteria may have 276 opportunities to enter your nose or mouth and then….your body. We all touch our faces- to scratch a nose itch, rub tired eyes or prop up our head with a hand. Most of the time, we’re not aware of what we are doing. However, touching your face substantially increases your risk of getting a cold, flu and even COVID-19.
Why Do We Do It?
There are many reasons why we frequently touch our faces. If your nose itches, it’s reflexive to scratch and relieve the uncomfortable sensation. Touching your face may also be a habit, just like biting fingernails or cracking knuckles. Studies suggest that face touching is one way we comfort ourselves and self-soothe. We also communicate non-verbally through face touching. For example, you may touch your face when you're feeling awkward or surprised.
You Can Break The Habit
How do you break a habit that occurs subconsciously? It’s easier to tell people to wash their hands frequently to protect themselves from infection. Face-touching is a tricky habit to break, but it is possible. Let’s look at several great tips to get you started.
Put something different (rubber band, ring, bracelet) on your wrist or finger to serve as a reminder to not touch your face.
Keep your hands busy during meetings, class and other idle moments., with a tissue, stress ball or other item.
Place sticky notes in your home and/or office as a reminder to keep your hands away from your face.
Choose a competing behavior. When you feel the urge to touch your face, touch or scratch your arm instead.
Identify your personal face-touching triggers, such as biting your nails, brushing hair out of your face or picking at dried skin on your lips.
Use scented soap or hand sanitizer. The scent can serve as a reminder when your hands are near your face.
Wearing a pair of gloves can be a good reminder to avoid face touching.
If you habitually play with your hair, wear it pulled back to avoid the temptation.
Not the Only Way
Limiting the number of times you touch your face is an effective way to reduce your risk of infection. But, it is not the only way. Your first line of defense is good hand hygiene. Here are a few other tips for practicing good hygiene:
Cover your mouth with a tissue (or the crook of your elbow) when you cough.
Don’t pick at healing wounds or squeeze pimples.
Don’t share dishes, utensils or glasses.
Avoid touching napkins, tissues or handkerchiefs used by someone else.
It would be wonderful if we could all break our face touching habits overnight. Unfortunately, changing a certain behavior takes time and consistent practice. It is important to be patient and give yourself kudos as you make progress.
Do you have other tips for breaking the face touching habit?