Health & Wellness

Stop Touching Your Face If You Want to Stay Healthy

It’s gotten a lot of attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the same vital advice applies to other illnesses such as colds and flu viruses: If you want to stay healthy, don’t touch your face.

Sounds easy, but for most of us, touching our face is so habitual that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. A 2015 study found that people touch their faces 23 times per hour, on average, and 44 percent of those touches were to the mouth, nose, eyes, or a combination thereof.

That matters because COVID-19 and many other illnesses can enter the body through contact with mucous membranes such as your eyes, nose, and mouth. If you touch a common public surface such as a door handle or ATM machine touchpad that’s been infected with germs, you could easily transmit an illness to yourself by touching your face with an unwashed hand. 

How to Stop Touching Your Face

Heightened awareness is the first step in trying to change deeply engrained habits like touching your face. Make an effort to pay attention to how often you reach up to bite your nails or put your chin in your hand (it’s likely more than you think). This will help you cut down on the behavior and identify your triggers.

If you’re on your computer, you can use the site to set up a webcam that will alert you if you touch your face. (Alas, it doesn’t work on mobile phones.)

CNN reports that touching your face is often tied to stress. If that’s the case for you, consider substituting some other action such as squeezing a stress ball or tapping your fingers on your thigh.

Good Housekeeping says you can try to trick yourself into a “competing behavior” such as touching your arm instead of your face, and notes that wearing glasses instead of contact lenses can help lessen the urge to rub your eyes. Got an itch or a runny nose? Use a tissue to touch your face instead of your bare hand—and wash your hands first.

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Other Ways to Prevent Disease

The CDC offers the following tips for protecting yourself against disease:

  • Wash your hands often using soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • If hand washing isn’t an option, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with others.

If you do feel ill, protect others by staying home, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing a facemask (this is not necessary if you’re not ill yourself unless you’re caring for someone who is sick and isn’t able to wear a mask), and cleaning infected surfaces frequently.

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By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

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