April 12, 2020

Touching Our Faces: Why We Do It and How to Break the Habit

The average person touches their face 20 or more times an hour, which is something we’re all being told not to do as a way of lessening our risk of becoming infected by COVID-19. The virus can live suspended in the air for up to three hours and approximately two to three days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces. Our eyes, nose and mouth are direct openings through which the virus can pass. Every time you touch something, you risk contaminating your hands. Every time you touch your face, you increase your risk of infection.

Why Do We Touch Our Faces So Often?

For humans, touching our faces is a natural tendency that begins before we’re born. Everybody does it and here are some of the reasons why:

  • It starts in the womb. According to several studies, the instinct to touch our faces begins in utero. It signals healthy development and is the first sign of sensory nerves developing in the face.
  • It’s an involuntary response. Touching your face is a reflex. When you have an itch, your brain tells you to scratch it as a protective response to what it considers a temporary form of pain.
  • It can be an unconscious habit. Just like biting your nails, touching your face can become a habit. The more you do it, the more chances that it will become a learned behavior. 
  • It’s a form of communication. When you’re listening intently to someone or concentrating on something you’re working on, your hand might end up on your chin. Surprised? Your hand might go to your mouth. It’s one of the main ways we express ourselves.
  • It’s a coping mechanism. Touching your face is calming and engages the senses. It causes a unique sensation because our faces and fingers are very sensitive. Doing so engages a specific area of our brain’s cerebral cortex, causing a unique sensation.

How to Break the Habit of Touching Your Face

If you have an itch on your face, your first reaction is to scratch it with your hands. Instead of instinctively using your hands, try using your arm. There are other things you can do to help train your brain to break the habit, including:

  • Keep your hands busy. If your hands are idle, they often find their way to your face. Fold some clothes. Squeeze a stress ball or use a fidget spinner, but make sure to disinfect them often.
  • Wear jewelry or put a rubber band on. Seeing either will make you pay attention to your hands more often and make you more mindful of what they’re doing. 
  • Make a note. Post-it notes are great ways to keep things top of mind, including not touching your face. Put them around your house and use different colors to avoid getting used to seeing them.
  • Use scented soap or sanitizer. The smell will draw your attention to the location of your hands and make you more aware of what they’re doing.
  • Lace your fingers. If you’re sitting in a meeting or watching TV, lace your fingers and place them in your lap. 
  • Wearing gloves. Having gloves on your hands at home may seem unusual at first, but it can help you break the habit of touching your face.
  • Strategic use of accessories. For people with long hair, consider tying it up in a bun to avoid the urge of touching your face to move stray hairs. Wear glasses to help you stop touching your eyes.
  • Wear a mask. Leave the N-95 masks for the professionals who need them and for those who are sick, but wearing a homemade mask can help remind you to stop touching your face. 

Not touching your face is an important step in helping to reduce your chances of being infected by COVID-19. Also, remember to frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and stay at least six feet away from others while in public.  

More Questions About COVID-19?

If you have more questions or concerns about COVID-19, go to BaptistHealth.com or visit other reputable sites, such as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


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