It takes some discipline, but it’s easier than you think.

Today, you likely rubbed your eyes, scratched your nose, wiped away a crumb from your mouth, or smoothed over your temples—or something in between. In fact, today, you likely touched your face dozens, if not hundreds of times, without even realizing it. And now's as good a time as any not only to become more aware of how often you touch your face, but to try to stop doing it so much. And we'll tell you why it's worth keeping your fingers off your face (or at least making an effort to cut down). "Our hands carry bacteria. When you touch your face, you can unwittingly spread oil, dirt and bacteria from your hands to your face," says Lucy Chen, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, Fla. Dr. Chen adds that this act of spreading germs to our faces doesn't just trigger breakouts and clog pores, but it can also cause premature aging too. 

"Rubbing the eyes can create tiny tears in the [surrounding skin] tissue," she says. "This can age the eyes and break the capillaries in the eyelids, which can then intensify dark circles. And as tempting as it is to try to drain a pimple by squeezing it, she says, "it's best to leave touching your face for when you're moisturizing, cleansing, or applying makeup or sunscreen." Most importantly, if and when you do touch your face—because it's somewhat inevitable— Dr. Chen urges you to "please be sure your hands are very clean."

How to Stop Touching Your Face So Much: woman touching her face
Credit: Getty Images

Of course, there's the other worry of spreading germs and viruses, like COVID-19 or flu viruses, from your hands to your face as well. But breaking the habit of constant face-touching is a little easier said than done; it's a habit that's well ingrained in human behavior. The good news is that it's not impossible, though. Here are a few easy-to-follow tips and tactics from experts to help break the cycle of face touching for good.

1 Keep your hands busy.

According to Dr. Chen, one of the easiest ways to break a face-touching habit is to keep your hands busy. "You can use a stress ball or a rubber band around your wrist to snap every time you want to touch your face," she says. You can even "use ready-made children's slime to mush around." Looking for something more productive? Dr. Chen suggests taking up a hobby like crocheting to keep your hands occupied. 

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2 Visualize what you're passing around.

One other Dr. Chen-approved method to kick this behavior for good is to visualize all the icky stuff you may be spreading onto your face because of it. "Use visualization techniques and picture your hands as 'dirty instruments' and think of all of the disgusting things and places they have touched all day long," she says. "Put this image in your mind even if your hands are clean." If it sounds slightly disturbing, this may be the perfect solution.

3 Count your touches.

Steven Hayes, a researcher and psychologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, shared on Nevada Today that some 40 years ago, he and fellow researchers studied exactly how often people touch their faces. He found his subjects touched their faces some 0.5 to 3 times a minute. "Do the math. That means if we are awake for 16 hours, we touch our faces hundreds or even thousands of times a day," he wrote. 

So what's his tip to stop? It's simple: Count every time you reach for your face.

"Count the touches. It does not matter what the [method for counting] is, as long as it's easily visible, you can carry it with you, and you're willing to use it," he says. "It could be a golf counter, a sheet of graph paper, or the lap timer on your smartphone. Religiously record every single time you touch your face and within minutes, it will drop to a rate low enough that you can keep track of it for a long time without disruption." Simple yet brilliant.

4 Bust out the markers.

If counting is too much, Dr. Chen suggests trying a more physical reminder. "Use a black marker to draw a dot on each palm and on the back of each hand," she says. "Every time you raise your hand to touch your face, you'll see the large ink spot and remember to keep your hands away from your face." And, as a bonus, you may end up rubbing some of that marker right onto your face, which will really remind you to stop touching it later.

5 Ask a friend for help.

If counting, visualization, or keeping busy all don't work, it's time to pull in a loved one to help. As Cape Cod Healthcare suggests, "asking a loved one or pal to say something when they see us touching our faces unconsciously. We need to consider what triggered the touch to make us more aware."

"We're just going to have to go through 10 extra steps now," Joycelyn A. Datu, MD, from Mashpee Primary Care at Cape Cod Healthcare's Rogers Outpatient Center, shares in a blog post. "The best way is to be extremely diligent, and it means changing your behavior. This is going to be a lesson that we'll learn from, even when [COVID] is all over."

In the meantime...

While you're working on it, or if you just can't give up the habit of touching your face, Dr. Chen says there could be something psychological at play depending on the frequency, and "it might be something you want to investigate further with a mental health professional," she says. 

If you are going to continue touching your face, she notes how important it is to keep your face as clean as possible without drying it out. "Use a gentle cleanser morning and night. Since you want to be conscious about controlling acne, use pads that contain glycolic or salicylic acid once a day to exfoliate and keep acne at bay," she says. "After cleansing in the morning and before applying your makeup, use a non-comedogenic, oil-free moisturizer with hyaluronic acid." Then, with the above tips in your pocket, try your best to keep your hands and fingers off your face for the rest of the day.