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Why can't we stop touching our faces?

Why can't we stop touching our faces?

April 17, 2020

Why can't we stop touching our faces?

And what you can do about it.

Health officials are urging people to stop touching their faces. Touching your face can transfer germs and bacteria your hands have come into contact with to the nose, eyes and mouth, which act as gateways for infection. 

It seems like a simple request, it makes sense, so why is it so hard to stop? According to scientists there are biological and psychological reasons behind why it’s harder than you think.

Why do we touch our faces?

Human beings touch their face on average once every 2 minutes and 37 seconds, according to a study into medical students in Australia. And it usually happens without conscious thought. We even start touching our faces as young as in the womb.

Researchers believe that touching your face is an innate self-soothing mechanism. Face touching releases oxytocin, a hormone which helps relieve stress. Oxytocin is the same chemical released with human contact and is believed to help with social interaction and increase feelings of love and wellbeing. Face touching has also been found to be used when people are embarrassed as a way to self-soothe.

Why can’t we stop touching our faces?

Scientists believe the reason it’s so hard to stop touching your face, even though every logical cell in your body knows you shouldn’t, is because it’s an innate and unconscious behaviour. It’s hard, if not impossible, to use logic to break the habit of something we do naturally and without thinking. 

Michael Hallsworth, a behavioural scientist at Columbia University, told the BBC, "Telling people to do something that happens unconsciously is a classic problem… You won't have success if you just say 'Do not do an unconscious thing' to someone." 

What you can do to minimise touching your face

  • If you wear contact lenses switch to glasses

No more irritation from contact lenses and the glasses will remind you not to rub your eyes. 

  • Introduce a competing behaviour

Gail Saltz, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Weill-Cornell School of Medicine suggested to Good Housekeeping to pick another area of the body to switch your habit to. "When you feel the urge to touch your face, touch your arm instead"

  • Keep your hands busy

Using a stress ball or fidget spinner can help to keep your hands occupied and off your face. But remember these can carry bacteria and germs so wash your hands after.

  • If you have an itch, use your shoulder or elbow to scratch it

How to protect yourself

Using techniques to reduce your face touching can reduce the amount you touch your face but they’re not 100% effective. In order to protect your hands from germs and avoid transferring them onto your face, practice safe hygiene by following these simple steps:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds
  • Use Daily Shield foaming hand sanitiser once a day to form a long lasting waterproof barrier on your hands that kills 99.9% of bacteria and germs.

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