Healthy Habits: touching your face

If “everything is everywhere”, your next cold may largely be inevitable. Even NASA’s spacecraft clean rooms are not safe from the microscopic stowaways. In this new series, I will examine urban myths and health-focused recommendations you may have heard of, or regularly practice, in an attempt to help stave off your next cold through better management of your day-to-day interactions with the microbial world. 

#1: Stop touching your face.

In this study, researchers had subjects eat cake without utensils to get a better idea of how often people touch their faces without realizing. Just kidding. Photo credit: Ella eating her caaake! by Brittany Randolph, cc

In this study, researchers had subjects eat cake without utensils to get a better idea of how often people touch their faces without realizing. Just kidding. Photo credit: Ella eating her caaake! by Brittany Randolphcc

A quick search on this topic yields many recommendations to limit face touching to prevent acne breakouts, colds and the flu. However, does microbial research support this recommendation?

Modes of transmission

The communication of disease from one individual to another can happen in roughly five ways:

  • Direct physical contact
  • Indirect physical contact
  • Droplet contact (aka coughing / sneezing related)
  • Airborne transmission
  • Fecal-oral transmission

With the exception of direct physical contact, I would argue that indirect physical contact encompasses the other modes of transmission quite easily. Basically, any time you touch a doorknob, your keyboard, or anything near other living creatures, indirect physical contact, especially via your hands, can happen.  Once on your hands, you are potentially just one face touch away from introducing something into your system.

How often do people touch their face, really?

Now, let’s get some quantitative numbers to back up this statement / pop-culture reference...

Lucky for us, a study performed in 2008 by researchers at the University of California did some of the heavy lifting for us by videotaping 10 individuals for 3 hours while performing office work. They found that their subjects touched their eyes, nose or lips 15.7 times per hour on average.

In conclusion, I am an advocate for reducing how often you touch your face. Does that mean eliminating face-touching from your daily routine is easy? Absolutely not but making yourself aware of the issue might help your reduce your daily average and stave off the inevitable for just a little longer.

How often do you touch your face? Leave a question or a comment below and remember, stay hungry, especially for cake !