Not touching your face isn’t just hard...it’s practically impossible. Most people touch their face an average of 24 times per hour…and just thinking about it is making our nose itch. But it’s something we all need to be really vigilant about as we do everything we can to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.
What’s the big deal about touching your face? The CDC says that touching something that lots of other hands have been on, like a doorknob, and then putting your unwashed hands anywhere near your eyes, mouth or nose puts you at risk of getting the virus. “You have to be really mindful about it,” says neonatologist Snehal Doshi, M.D., CEO of Millennium Neonatology. Easier said than done, of course, but Dr. Doshi knows this firsthand—he spends many of his working hours in delivery rooms. Here’s his best advice for keeping your mitts off your face.
1. Keep your hands busy
When you’re actively thinking, Don’t touch your face, don’t touch your face, it can be pretty easy to keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth. But when you’re going about your day, distracted by other things, it’s so much trickier. Dr. Doshi has a trick he learned on the job: “When we’re in the delivery room, our hands are sterile,” he says. “We clasp them together tightly to avoid accidentally touch something.” This way, you won’t subconsciously itch your nose. You can also shove them into your pockets or carry something in each hand (hey, you’re always texting anyway) to keep them occupied.
2. Wear gloves
No gloves—whether they’re surgical gloves, ski gloves or the Elmo gloves your daughter wears—are going to keep germs off your face. Whatever you touch with your gloved hands is going to end up on your face when you scratch that itch. But Dr. Doshi explains that the fact that you have something covering your hands is going to make you more aware of them, which will hopefully help you remember to keep them off your face.
Dr. Doshi’s glove tip: If you’re wearing your winter gloves as a precaution right now, it’s important to wash them when you get home. Otherwise, any virus-causing germs you might have picked up on those gloves is going to live on them for at least a few hours. Toss them into the washing machine or scrub them down with antibacterial dish soap in the sink as soon as you get home.
3. Wash your hands (and carry hand sanitizer)
If touching your face feels totally inevitable (…guilty), there is one thing you can do to minimize your risk: Wash your damn hands.
“Hand washing—along with social distancing—is still the absolute best way to keep the virus from spreading right now,” Dr. Doshi says. “But if you have sanitizer while you’re out, you should use it to clean your hands until you’re at a sink.”
So although you really should be touching your face as little as possible, as long as you keep your hands clean, the occasional nose touch isn’t quite as risky.
4. Download this app
If you’re a Fitbit Ionic owner, Kim Binsted, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Hawaii, has an app for you. Binsted made the Jalapeno app after COVID-19 began to threaten the U.S. in an effort to try to get herself to stop touching her face. Every time you reach your arm up toward your face, the app makes your Fitbit vibrate, sending an alert to put your hand back down. In the same way you wouldn’t touch your eyes after dicing a jalapeño pepper, Binsted hopes to help people keep their hands off their face to stay healthy.