There are many risks associated with touching your face, especially now more than ever. Touching your face can dramatically increase your risk of infection with the flu or cold viruses, and now – the new coronavirus. Your mouth, eyes, and nose are areas from where viruses and bacteria can easily enter the body. Studies have found that people tend to touch their faces more than 16 times in just an hour on any typical day. In fact, we touch our faces so often that the odds of recontaminating our hands even after washing is exceptionally high. Read on to find out about how to stop touching your face and remain safe.
We Touch Our Faces 16 Times In An Hour
It is hard to count how many times a day we touch our faces. Rubbing our tired eyes, having an itchy nose, wiping our mouth, and many other such simple actions we all do without giving a second thought.(1,2) However, touching our face can dramatically increase the risk of getting infected with cold or flu viruses, especially with the new coronavirus around these days.(3,4)
Your eyes, nose, and mouth are some of the most common areas where viruses and bacteria can enter your body most easily, and all this simply with a touch of a finger that already carries the infection.
According to data from the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the new coronavirus, officially known as SARS-CoV-2, gets transmitted from person to person, just like other respiratory infections.(5) This is commonly carried out by respiratory droplets produced when someone sneezes, and these droplets are inhaled by others and enter their lungs. This tends to happen when you touch a virus-contaminated surface and then using that hand to touch your mouth or eyes.
While it is easy to avoid being around those who are sick, and taking precautions against airborne viruses by wearing a face mask, it becomes difficult to prevent the virus when it is on a surface.
A study carried out in 2008 observed ten participants within an office environment for three hours. The research team found that the participants touched their faces an average of 16 times every hour.(6)
Another 2015 study that observed 26 medical students at an Australian University discovered that the participants touched their faces 23 times in an hour. Almost half of these face touches involve the nose, mouth, or eyes, which are identified as the easiest pathways for bacteria and viruses to enter the body.(1)
In fact, in another study, even medical professionals were found to touch their faces at least 19 times in a span of two hours while also being inconsistent with observing stringent hand hygiene.(7)
How to Stop Touching Your Face?
Here are some tips to stop touching your face, especially as the coronavirus outbreak seems to have no end in sight.
- Be mindful of your intention not to touch your face. Make it a point to keep your hands away from your face. Even a brief pause will help you become more conscious about what you are doing with your hands.
- Place reminders such as Post-it notes in your office and home so that you can look at them and remember that you need to keep your hands away from your face.
- Keep your hands busy. For example, if you are sitting idle and watching TV, it helps to keep your hands busy by sorting through your mail, folding laundry, or even holding something in your hands. Even holding a tissue in your hands will do as it will keep on reminding you to keep your hands away from touching your face.
- Using a scented hand sanitizer or a scented hand soap also helps remind you to keep your hands away from your face. The smell on your hands will draw your attention to where your hands are and help you avoid touching your face.
- If you are sitting in a class or attending a meeting, then lacing your fingers together and putting them in your lap can help keep your hands busy.
- If you are habituated to constantly touching your face, then wearing gloves can serve as an effective physical reminder that you need to avoid touching your face. Wear gloves, especially when you are out in public, and are most likely to be exposed to touching surfaces that might have the virus. Once you reach your destination, you can remove them. If you are having trouble getting used to not touching your face, then wearing gloves at home also can help you break this habit.
Importance of Handwashing
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best precaution you can take to keep yourself safe from common bacteria and viruses is to wash your hands. (8) Washing your hands often and at least for 20 seconds should help. However, again, this will only help you if you avoid touching your face in between because even if you have picked up a small and deadly virus, you will automatically transfer the virus to your face, increasing the likelihood of getting infected.
According to experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, effective handwashing typically consists of five steps.(9) These include:
- Wet your hands with running water (cold or warm), turn off the tap, and then apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing the soap on them. Make it a point to lather the backs of your hands, in between your fingers, and even underneath your fingernails.
- Make sure you scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Now rinse your hands thoroughly under running water.
- Dry your hands with a clean towel, or you can also air dry them.
However, since we end up touching our faces so frequently that the odds of recontaminating our hands in between each washing become exceptionally high. After all, it only takes touching one doorknob to become susceptible to infection all over again.
This is why it is best to take precautions to avoid touching your face. Wearing some type of jewelry around your hands, such as a new ring or a bracelet, or even wearing a rubber band around your wrist, can serve as a simple reminder to be aware of where your hands are and to also remember to avoid touching your face.
Your nose, eyes, and mouth are the most common and easiest pathways for a virus such as the novel coronavirus, to enter your body. Remember that all it will take is touching your face with your hands after coming in contact with a disease from a surface you have touched.
No matter how regularly you wash your hands, but it is usually not enough to prevent the passing of a disease-causing bacteria or virus into your body. This is why the best prevention you can follow is to avoid touching your face as much as possible.
Following simple tips such as using scented hand sanitizer or hand soap can help increase the awareness of where your hands are and prevent you from touching your face. If you find yourself having a tough time to stop touching your face, then wearing gloves may help.
- Kwok, Y.L.A., Gralton, J. and McLaws, M.L., 2015. Face touching: A frequent habit that has implications for hand hygiene. American journal of infection control, 43(2), pp.112-114.
- March, T.P.P., Stop Touching Your Face!.
- Levine, B.H., 2016. You Are Touching Your Face. Focus, 14(3), pp.345-348.
- MERS, P.Y.F., PROTECT YOURSELF• Wash your hands often with soap and water.• Avoid touching your face.• Avoid close contact with sick people. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR HEALTH.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-risk-assesment-hcp.html> [Accessed 6 June 2020].
- Nicas, M. and Best, D., 2008. A study quantifying the hand-to-face contact rate and its potential application to predicting respiratory tract infection. Journal of occupational and environmental hygiene, 5(6), pp.347-352.
- Elder, N.C., Sawyer, W., Pallerla, H., Khaja, S. and Blacker, M., 2014. Hand hygiene and face touching in family medicine offices: a Cincinnati Area Research and Improvement Group (CARInG) network study. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 27(3), pp.339-346.
- Cdc.gov. 2020. Handwashing – Clean Hands Save Lives | CDC. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/> [Accessed 6 June 2020].
- Cdc.gov. 2020. Keeping Hands Clean | Handwashing | Hygiene | Healthy Water | CDC. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/hand/handwashing.html.> [Accessed 6 June 2020].