A majority of us have a habit that puts us at an increased risk of contracting diseases: the irrepressible urge to touch our faces.
Whether it’s propping up your face with your hand, trying to pop a pimple, or rubbing your eyes, most of us are guilty of touching our faces at some point. However, touching your face is a skincare blunder which can result in clogged pores and breakouts.
In addition to being a detriment to the skins appearance, this seemingly harmless habit can also act as a superhighway for infectious diseases, like the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), to invade the body.
Why Do You Keep Touching Your Face?
Humans belong to the few species in the animal kingdom that are given to regular and unconscious face touching, specifically areas surrounding the eyes, nose, and mouth.
Most species in the animal kingdom touch their faces as part of regular grooming or a way to get rid of pests. However, in humans (and primates) face touching is a fundamental behaviour that plays an important role in cognitive and emotional processes in people. It is categorized as self-regulatory and is done with little to no awareness.
Additionally, according to psychologists at the University of California, touching your face can serve as a self-soothing mechanism. Research also shows that skin-to-skin contact triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps relieve stress and tension.
People may also touch their faces when something “doesn’t feel right” — perhaps an itch or a stray strand of hair — and feel the need to remove the irritant. When accomplished, this can give individuals a sense of accomplishment, which provides further incentive for the action until it eventually becomes a habit.
How Does Touching Your Face Spread the Virus?
Respiratory viruses like SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) invades the body by entering the respiratory tract through the eyes, nose, and mouth. These are mucosal surfaces, which provide a haven for respiratory viruses. Transmission happens through:
- Person-to-Person ContactThis happens when you inhale the droplets generated by an infected person’s cough or sneeze. This makes social distancing (staying at least 6 feet to 2 metres apart from others) necessary.
- Touching Contaminated Objects or SurfacesInfection is possible when you rub your eyes or touch your nose or mouth after touching a contaminated object or surface (e.g. door handles, switches, tables, phones, or remote controls). The virus can stay on certain surfaces for hours and as many as 3 days on plastic and stainless steel.
Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends frequent hand washing, disinfection, and not touching your face.
Is it safe to touch or scratch non-mucosal areas of the face like the forehead or ears?
Infectious disease experts say there’s no harm in doing so. However, it’s better to err on the side of caution and avoid touching any part of your face altogether.
Disease experts also say that the virus isn’t capable of transferring from one area of the surface to another on its own. It cannot jump from your cheek into your mouth. However, if the virus has made its way to an area on your face (like your forehead), you can move it to susceptible areas by touching your face.
The key to prevention is to keep your hands off any and all parts of your face.
Is It Safe to Touch Your Face When at Home?
Touching your face is less risky if:
- You are living alone and have been staying indoors
- No one in the household is presenting symptoms or has been outside
- You’ve been diligent in cleaning and disinfecting your home
However, you may need to curb the urge to touch your face if you’re trying to change your behaviour. While retraining yourself, try not to circle back to old habits to effectively rewire your brain.
How Do You Prevent Yourself From Touching Your Face
Humans are creatures of habit. There is no instant way to eliminate this habit. It all starts with an awareness of your tendencies and taking conscious action to curb it.
- Be Aware
An awareness of your habit should compel you to take action. Videotaping yourself for about 20 minutes as you start your day is an effective way to understand your propensity to touch your face. Alternatively, each time you notice your hand about to raise up to your face, write it on paper. Once you make a habit of that, you’ll become more mindful of your actions and consciously avoiding them.
Experts also recommend replacement behaviours as a way of keeping your hands occupied. Keep your hands busy with:
- Bubble wrap
- Fidget spinners
- Stress balls
- Kneadable rubber erasers
- Post-It notes (by doodling or writing)
- Any other manipulable objects that help you get your mind off touching your face
- Wear a Face Mask
Another preventive measure is to wear a mask. While face masks don’t necessarily protect you from droplets in the air, they can act as a barrier between your hands and your nose or mouth.
- Wash Your Hands
Wash your hands thoroughly and every time you touch a potentially contaminated object or surface. This reduces your risk of infection even when you inadvertently touch your face.
Wash with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. In case you’re out and your nose or mouth suddenly itches, give your hands a quick rub-down using an alcohol-based sanitizer before touching your face. Have a tissue ready in your pocket to wipe your nose or mouth afterwards.
Curbing your face touching habit isn’t about perfection, but progression. Keep up at it even if your attempts seem unsuccessful. Touching your face may increase the chances of transmission but the greatest risk of contracting the disease is exposure to and close contact with infected individuals — whether or not they exhibit symptoms. The goal is to lower that risk.
Other tips to help stop the coronavirus from spreading include practicing personal hygiene and keeping your home and frequently used items (like your gadgets) clean at all times.
If you touch your face too often because of certain skin conditions, like acne, whiteheads, or blackheads, consider turning to an expert aesthetician to address the problem. Clarity Medspa & Laser understands that it can be challenging to stop the urge to eliminate these irritants yourself. However, doing so does not only put your health at risk but can aggravate these skin conditions as well.
We provide specialized, individualized care for your unique skin conditions and offer solutions to rejuvenate and restore the health of your skin. Whether you’re looking for natural acne treatments or targeted skin care reach out to us. For any questions or to schedule an appointment, dial (416) 960-2222.