Touching our faces is a fundamental behaviour that’s difficult to avoid.
Natasha Tiwari, a psychologist from Veda Group, explains that we know this because even foetuses touch their faces.1
Tiwari explains that touching your face can help calm us down by activating specific pressure points and allowing the parasympathetic system to kick in.2
Other leading psychologists say touching the face also plays a crucial role in cognitive and emotional processes.3
This means that even when you actively tell yourself not to touch your face for health and hygiene reasons, it can feel unnatural; you’re trying to stop a natural, often unconscious response.
Do not touch your face - is it bad for us to touch our face?
There are many things that set humans apart from other species on the planet, but on this occasion, we’re discussing touching your face.
Touching your face is a natural reaction for all of us, it's something we often do without thinking.
One Australian study looked at medical students from the New South Wales University in Sydney noted that students touch their face as often as 23 times per minute,4 which is a lot when you consider that medical students would be more aware than others.
The overall thought is that touching your face can be a bad thing as you are more likely to carry or pass on unwanted germs if you constantly touch areas, such as your hands on your face, around your eyes or around your mouth.
How many times do you touch your face a day?
As we are not inundated with studies, the only real average that we have to go on at the moment is the same study as above into Australian medical students, who were found to be touching their face 23 times an hour on average.
Why is it hard to stop touching our face?
It’s very common for you to touch your face.
It’s something we all do and without self-awareness and self-control, it’s a hard thing to stop.
There are a few thoughts on this that consider face touching to be a way of dealing with stress or anxiety, comparatively there are also schools of thought that it can be down to vanity.5
The truth is, touching your face is such a common thing to do that it’s hard to fully research and understand the exact reason why.
5 reasons we touch our face
While face touching may appear habitual, there are a number of reasons that humans might delve into a bit of hand on face touching.
It starts in the womb
Many studies consider that the instinct to touch our faces begins before birth.
It’s considered that the development of touch begins before birth and then progresses as sensory nerves develop in the face.6
It’s an involuntary response
Face touching is a reflex.
When you have an itch, for example, on the end of your nose your brain tells you to scratch.
Itching is a protective response to relieve what your brain considers to be temporary pain.
Much like biting your nails, touching your face can become a habit.
It is thought that the basal ganglia, the area of the brain which controls and stores desired movements may learn these behaviours the more often you do them.
A form of communication
Touching your face is a form of expression. In act of being surprised or scared, we might put our hands to our cheeks or hands to our face.
A coping mechanism
Touching your face engages your senses and bring calm.
Unlike many other areas of the body, touching the face and digits in close but separate areas (like the cheek vs. the nose) feels different because each engages a specific area of the brain’s cerebral cortex, causing a unique sensation.
Why should you avoid touching your face?
Touching your face can increase the risk of infections by viruses and bacteria that enter the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth.
Given that we touch our faces on average 23 times an hour, this can significantly increase the risk.5
Reducing hand-to-face contact can, therefore, lower the possibility of infection.
It’s easier to be diligent with washing your hands more frequently than touching your face less often.
However, touching your face can increase the chance of recontamination even after washing.
Reasons its bad to touch our face
Looking at the evidence, the only real reason not to touch your face is the spread of germs.
The best way to combat this is to wash your hands regularly and use the tips below to avoid touching your face and the spread of germs.
Tips and tricks to stop touching your face
It is almost impossible to stop touching your face completely.5
However, by following the below tips and tricks, you can significantly reduce the habit.
Build a substitute behaviour
When you’re aware of irritation, like an itch, on your face, try using the back of your arm instead of your hands to relieve it.
Using your arm might feel unusual, but it can help reduce your risk of picking up an illness or disease.
Eliminate old habits
Try to notice the times you touch your face and see if there’s anything you can do to eliminate the habit.
Instead of wearing contact lenses, which might irritate your eyes, switch to glasses to avoid touching the eyes as often.
Similarly, you can try wearing less or no makeup or reduce the amount you top up throughout the day.
Create new habits
As well as changing old habits, introduce new mindful thought processes to reduce how often you touch your face.
You can make an effort to keep your hands clasped and put them in your lap or even sit on them.6
Then when you do bring your hands up to touch your face, there will be a longer delay and more opportunity to stop yourself.
Keep your hands busy
Keeping hands busy can be an effective way to keep them away from your face.
When you’re at rest, hold something in your hands to keep them occupied.
Having a stress ball nearby can come in useful and act as a constant reminder not to touch your face.
Be wary that the more items you contact the more these need to be disinfected too.7
For more information on how to reduce the risk of infection, check out our How to Stay Safe FAQ's.
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
Last updated: 18 February 2022