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How to stop touching your face!

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As you’re reading this, we’re willing to bet that you’ve touched your face at least once. We all do it, as we’re reading, scrolling, working.

When we exercise, we brush our hair away from our faces or wipe away the hard earned sweat. When we’re concentrating, we rest our chin on our hands. When we’re flirting, we touch our mouths or our hair. Even when we’re asleep, some of us rest the side of our faces on our hands.

All of this isn’t inherently bad. It’s not like we’re purposefully doing something wrong. But the consequences of so much hand to face action could be damaging to both our skin and our overall health.

But why do we touch our faces? How many times on average are we touching our faces? Can touching our eyes, nose and mouth potentially make us ill? Could touching our face be adding to our acne woes?

The importance of minimising how many times we touch our face

As we live in a world spooked by coronavirus and the reality of how quickly a deadly virus can spread around the entire world, we’re all making adjustments.

Now, more than ever, we’re aware that we need to reduce the amount of times we touch our face with our hands, especially when we’re out and about. Touching door handles, car doors, supermarket trolleys and pretty much all other surfaces could transfer the coronavirus (and a multitude of other viruses, fungi and bacteria) to our hands.

Transmission of the coronavirus is not yet fully understood, but it’s thought to enter and infect our airways through the mouth, nose and eyes, causing the symptoms and problems we’re all now fully versed on.

If we’re carrying the virus on our hands, we could infect ourselves, and others, by touching our face. This is why good hand hygiene (washing regularly and using hand sanitiser) is so crucial at times like this.

Does touching our face cause acne?

But not only do we need to be mindful about touching our faces to help stop the spread of Covid-19, we also need to think about the impact this habit has on our skin.

Whilst acne prone skin is non conformist due to a range of reasons, including genetics, hormone imbalances and an overgrowth of skin bacteria, touching our skin isn't going to cause acne. If treating acne were as simple as not touching our faces, no one would suffer with acne!

But touching or faces can make acne breakouts worse. Our hands harbour bacteria, dirt, grime and oils, all of which can build up on our skin, causing our pores to block, leading to acne breakouts. That’s why cleansing our skin twice a day to remove dirt, grime, oil, pollution and makeup using a gentle, nourishing skin cleanser is so important.

Does touching our face cause wrinkles?

Whilst we’re on the subject of touching our faces making acne breakouts worse, what about making our skin wrinkly?

There is no evidence to suggest either way, but if you sit at a desk for eight hours a day with your face resting on your hands, your skin pushed upwards, then the chances are, you could be adding to the problem of your skin losing elasticity.

Who knows for sure, but it’s a risk we’d rather not face!

Why do we touch our face?

Touching our face seems to be a human trait. Our dogs might have an itchy chin and our cats might like to paw at their ears, but on the whole, in the animal kingdom, face touching doesn’t really happen. Whilst animals might brush away a pesky fly that’s landed on their noses, none of them touch their faces like we do. And there’s a science behind this.

Martin Grunwald, a psychologist at the University of Leipzig, Germany, told the BBC that self touching in this way is a "fundamental behaviour of our species".

The science gets a little complicated, but Professor Grunwald says that, "Self touches are self regulatory movements which are not usually designed to communicate and are frequently accomplished with little or no awareness. They play a key role in all cognitive and emotional processes. They occur in all people."

So in a nutshell, it’s in our genetic makeup that we will touch our faces without any real purpose and we don’t do it knowingly.

Another scientist, Dacher Keltner, says touching our faces may act as a kind of self soothing mechanism. Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley says that there’s evidence that skin to skin contact makes us release the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin helps to reduce stress levels and promote a sense of calm.

So touching our own skin is a comfort that extends back to our days as a baby, being cuddled by our parents and carers.

How many times do we touch our face?

Unless we film ourselves 24 hours a day, it’s impossible to know how many times we put our hands to our eyes, nose, mouth and ears. But we can assume that it’s a lot. Especially towards the end of a long day and we’re tired and have lots of yawning and eye rubbing to do.

There have been studies that help us realise how often we’re reaching for our face. In 2015, a study looked at how often medical students touched their faces during a lecture. Students were filmed over the course of just one hour and research looked at the footage to determine the average number of face touches. On average, it was 23! In just an hour. So imagine the number for a whole day of doing different activities?

How can I stop touching my face?

So the question remains, if touching our face can transmit bacteria, fungi and viruses (including the coronavirus), cause acne prone skin to misbehave even more and even potentially cause fine lines and wrinkles, how on earth do we stop this habit we don’t even know we’re doing?!

First up, how to prevent infecting ourselves - wash our hands regularly. This won’t stop us touching our faces, but it will help to stop the spread of germs and introducing dirt and bacteria to our skin.

To stop touching our face, is a tricky beast. After all, how do you break a habit you don’t know you’ve got? Here’s a few tips…

  • Be mindful of your movements and actions - being mindful makes us more present, and can make us more aware of what we’re mindlessly doing. It takes practice, but with determination, you can be more mindful of your hands and when they’re likely to touch your face.
  • Put a reminder on your computer screen to stop touching your face. Maybe move it around every few days so that you don’t just get used to it being there.
  • Hold something in your hands as you watch TV or read. That way you’ll have to put it down to touch your face, reminding you not to. Something small like a tissue will suffice.
  • Use scented hand creams that you’ll smell when you raise your hands to your face, reminding you to stop.
  • In meetings or lectures, sit on your hands or hold them together in your lap to stop them moving upwards towards your face.
  • Wearing gloves can also remind you not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. This might be tricky indoors or when it's hot, but it can be helpful during the winter months.

Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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