Medical leaders worldwide have warned people to avoid touching their face as a crucial way to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Long before we ever thought about COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, public health professionals cautioned that many respiratory tract infections were thought to be transmitted by touching our eyes, mouth and/or nostrils after our hands came into contact with a virus in our environment. 1 It is a very human reflex.
Several studies have quantified just how normal it is for us to touch our faces on average each hour.
A study at the University of California Berkeley videotaped subjects performing office work and found an average of 15.7 face contacts per hour with their hands. 1 Another study videotaped medical students in Australia and found they touched their faces an average of 23 times each hour. 36% of touches were to the mouth; 31% were to the nose; 27% of touches were to the eyes, and the other 6% were a combination of those touches. 2
In an interview with the BBC, London-based psychologist Natasha Tiwari said we are hardwired to touch our faces—we’ve been doing it since we were in the womb. It is a self-calming technique that activates certain pressure points involved with our parasympathetic nervous system. 3 That is the part of our involuntary nervous system that can slow heart rate. 4
In the video below, Tiwari shares this insight and offers some tips for how to stop: 3
- Swap out your glasses for contact lenses
- Wear less make-up to reduce the need to maintain it during the day
- And perhaps best of all, cross your hands to keep them busy and rest them on your lap. In a sense, this is a way of putting your hands themselves in lockdown until you need to use them for a specific task (like washing them!).
None of this is to say it is easy to stop something we’ve done forever. But, given today’s health concerns, hands down, these seem like some very good suggestions.
1Nicas M, Best D. A study quantifying the hand-to-face contact rate and its potential application to predicting respiratory tract infection. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. 2008 Jun;5(6):347-52.
2Kwok YL, Gralton J, McLaws ML. Face touching: a frequent habit that has implications for hand hygiene. American Journal of Infection Control. 2015 Feb;43(2):112-4.
3BBC News. Coronavirus: Why we touch our faces and how to stop it. Video. 15 March 2020.
4Shiel WC. Medical Definition of Parasympathetic Nervous System. MedicineNet. 12 December 2018.
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