You touch your face 23 times an hour—here are 3 ways to curb the habit, according to behavioral psychologist

March 09, 2020 at 01:08PM by CWC


I touched my face 12 times before my first morning meeting. Oh wait, that’s a lie—I should say 12 times in the hour between arriving at work and my first meeting of the day. I know health officials are recommending we keep our paws off our faces in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and yet… must… scratch…

Learning how to stop touching your face is important in the wake of a viral outbreak, but it’s also a worthwhile practice regardless of the current health climate. Much like how you should be washing your hands to the tune of “Happy Birthday” every day (many times a day), dermatologists recommend keeping your hands off your face to limit the spread of bacteria that can cause acne, irritation, and other skin issues. “One of the worst beauty habits you can have his touching your face during the day,” Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, previously told Well+Good. “On a regular basis we are touching everything from door knobs to our cell phones. Dirt, oil, and bacteria build up on our fingertips, which translates to skin problems if you’re touching your face.”

However, touching your face is such an unconscious, ingrained habit, it can feel impossible to overcome. One study from 2015 involving 26 medical students observed that they touched their face an average of 23 times per hour. And these were MEDICAL STUDENTS. My fingers literally just grazed my eyebrow after writing that in all-caps, so we really need to be better.

As luck may have it, making a concerted effort to be better is the first step, according to Selena Snow, PhD, a licensed psychologist with advanced training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. “Be more mindful about what you are doing,” says Dr. Snow. “Increased awareness of your behavior will help you to change that behavior. I call this ABC—Awareness Becomes Change.”

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Welp, I just scratched my jawline, so at least I’m painfully aware of what’s going on. To stay safe, stay healthy, and stay clean, Dr. Snow has a few more super simple (fun, even!) tips on how to stop touching your face.

1. Take a cue from your cat 

You know how some cat-owners will tie a teeny bell to their feline’s collar in order to keep track of its whereabouts? Think of yourself as Mittens, a diabolical tabby who can’t stop swatting at your owner’s goldfish, and wrap one or both of your wrists with something visually and/or literally loud.

“You can try wearing a bracelet with something eye-catching or jangly that hangs off of it so that the bracelet will catch your attention as your hand moves towards your face,” says Dr. Snow.

If you get something clink-y to wear, then it should alert you when your hand approaches your nose (which, for the record, mine just did—twice).

2. Use aroma to steer your hand from your face

“You can try applying a scented lotion or perfume to your hands so that the scent catches your attention as you bring your hand towards your face. Then you can stop the behavior as you become aware of it,” Dr. Snow. And if COVID-19 has you a little more on-edge than usual, investing in a soothing fragrance like stress-relieving lavender oil could do double-duty.

Of course, remember that scent-iness doesn’t replace cleanliness, so only apply your olfactory warning after you scrub your hands.

3. During leisure time, make sure your hands are always preoccupied

When you’re busy at work—type, type, typing away or gesticulating wildly during meetings (just me?)—your awareness symbols should alert you of any face-touching. But what about when you’re home, spending the last hours of your day watching Love is Blind while your hands lay idly on your lap? Oh, just rubbed my eyes again.

“Keep your hands busy doing something else so that they are occupied and not available to touch your face,” says Dr. Snow. “Examples can include squeezing stress balls, knitting, keeping a pen in your hand and clicking it, or rubbing lotion on your hands.”

To sum up, the first way to stop touching your face is simply notice when you’re doing it. The second is to find a way to help you notice. And the third is to pick up a habit that’ll keep you hands-off during your down time. On that note, I just rubbed my mouth with my palm; can somebody get me a bracelet and some knitting needles?

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Author Mary Grace Garis | Well and Good
Selected by CWC