Humans have a natural and unusual tendency to touch their faces very often. Even with the presence of a pandemic, we can’t stop touching our faces. We touch our chins, scratch our noses, touch our mouths, or rub around the eyes. Things don’t happen in that order, but these are natural occurrences that create a recipe for quick transmission, especially for a virus that is as infectious as the coronavirus (COVID-19).
When it comes to infectious outbreaks, frequent face touching is dangerous because the germs on your hands can reach moist areas (the nose, mouth, and eyes) and porous surface tissue. Upon reaching these areas, germs can enter the body and cause infection. The skin on your hands is intact, making it almost impervious to infection, while the mucosal tissue that lines the eyes, nose, and mouth is not so resilient.
Two Ways To Transmit Infection
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has detailed that COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person; it shares that trait with other respiratory infections. When an infected person sneezes or coughs and another person inhales those infected droplets, he/she can become infected. If an infected person sneezes or coughs on a surface and another person touches that contaminated surface and immediately touches the eyes, nose, or mouth, he/she can become infected.
We Touch Our Faces Too Much
According to a 2008 study, which monitored 10 subjects in an office environment for three hours, the results found that all the subjects touched their faces an average of 16 times per hour. A more recent study in 2015 observed 26 medical students at a university in Australia. That study found that the subjects touched their faces an average of 23 times per hour. In both studies, almost 50% of face touches involved the mouth, eyes, or nose.
As detailed above, people like to touch their faces. This is why it is extra important to practice frequent hand washing. You have no way of knowing whether or not you touch a contaminated surface, so please avoid touching your face whenever possible. Use the following tips to help you break the habit.
Supplement With Another Behavior
As with any habit that you are trying to break, it is best to perform a competing behavior. For example, when you feel the urge to touch your face, scratch your belly or your arm. You can also sit on your hands to break the habit. The point of both of these is to redirect away from touching the face. If both of those competing behaviors don’t work, begin taking measures to reduce your risk of infection, e.g. carrying disinfectant wipes to clean surfaces, carrying hand sanitizer, or using your knuckles to open doors or press buttons.
Pay Attention To How Often And When You Touch Your Face
One of the best ways to break a habit is to find out what triggers the action. When you become aware of how often and when you touch your face, it becomes easier to break the habit. Sometimes it is a physical irritation and that can’t be ignored. Do you pick your nose for fun? Do you rub under your eyes or temples when stressed? Do you scratch you chin out of boredom? Identify the cause and you’ll reduce the amount you touch your face.
Change The Triggers
Do you find that you rub your eyes after working on the computer for many hours? Perhaps your eyes are dry and you just need to carry eye drops and apply moisturizer around the eyes earlier in the day to prevent dryness. If you fiddle with your hair that hangs in front of your face, consider pulling it back or tying it in a bun.
Hold Things In Your Hands
It can be tough to touch your face when you have something in your hands. When you feel that urge to touch your face arriving, grab something and focus your attention on that thing to distract the brain. Perhaps you grab hold of a stress ball, pick up a guitar, grab some dumbbells to do a couple curls, or grab a cup of water to stay hydrated. All of these things can help you avoid frequent face touching.
Use technology to your advantage and set reminders on your phone to help you stop touching your face. Have a recurring alarm that reads, “Don’t touch your face” every 5-10 minutes. If you don’t want to rely on technology or have annoying alarms all day, have some friends or family members help you break the habit. If you live with family or friends, tell them to yell at you when you bite your nails or rub your eyes. Enlisting help is never a bad idea for breaking a habit.