A majority of us have a habit that puts us at an increased risk of contracting diseases: the irrepressible urge to touch our faces.
Whether it’s propping up your face with your hand, trying to pop a pimple, or rubbing your eyes, most of us are guilty of touching our faces at some point. However, touching your face is a skincare blunder which can result in clogged pores and breakouts.
In addition to being a detriment to the skins appearance, this seemingly harmless habit can also act as a superhighway for infectious diseases, like the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), to invade the body.
Why Do You Keep Touching Your Face?
Humans belong to the few species in the animal kingdom that are given to regular and unconscious face touching, specifically areas surrounding the eyes, nose, and mouth.
Most species in the animal kingdom touch their faces as part of regular grooming or a way to get rid of pests. However, in humans (and primates) face touching is a fundamental behaviour that plays an important role in cognitive and emotional processes in people. It is categorized as self-regulatory and is done with little to no awareness.
Additionally, according to psychologists at the University of California, touching your face can serve as a self-soothing mechanism. Research also shows that skin-to-skin contact triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps relieve stress and tension.
People may also touch their faces when something “doesn’t feel right” — perhaps an itch or a stray strand of hair — and feel the need to remove the irritant. When accomplished, this can give individuals a sense of accomplishment, which provides further incentive for the action until it eventually becomes a habit.
How Does Touching Your Face Spread the Virus?
Respiratory viruses like SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) invades the body by entering the respiratory tract through the eyes, nose, and mouth. These are mucosal surfaces, which provide a haven for respiratory viruses. Transmission happens through:
- Person-to-Person Contact This happens when you inhale the droplets generated by an infected person’s cough or sneeze. This makes social distancing (staying at least 6 feet to 2 metres apart from others) necessary.
- Touching Contaminated Objects or SurfacesInfection is possible when you rub your eyes or touch your nose or mouth after touching a contaminated object or surface (e.g. door handles, switches, tables, phones, or remote controls). The virus can stay on certain surfaces for hours and as many as 3 days on plastic and stainless steel.
Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends frequent hand washing, disinfection, and not touching your face.
Is it safe to touch or scratch non-mucosal areas of the face like the forehead or ears?
Infectious disease experts say there’s no harm in doing so. However, it’s better to err on the side of caution and avoid touching any part of your face altogether.
Disease experts also say that the virus isn’t capable of transferring from one area of the surface to another on its own. It cannot jump from your cheek into your mouth. However, if the virus has made its way to an area on your face (like your forehead), you can move it to susceptible areas by touching your face.
The key to prevention is to keep your hands off any and all parts of your face.