Perfume. Wrist Buzzers. Hypnosis. How People Try to Stop Touching Their Faces.

Eufemia Didonato

Nine months into a pandemic and you’re still touching your face? Wearable devices, meditations, athletic gear and tchotchkes want to help you kick the habit. Nose itching, coughing, nail biting, mustache twirling, eye rubbing and hair flipping are among the reasons people touch their faces, often without realizing it. One study from […]

Nine months into a pandemic and you’re still touching your face? Wearable devices, meditations, athletic gear and tchotchkes want to help you kick the habit.

Nose itching, coughing, nail biting, mustache twirling, eye rubbing and hair flipping are among the reasons people touch their faces, often without realizing it. One study from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, published in 2015, found participants touched their faces an average of 23 times per hour.

No matter how many times doctors remind us to keep our germy fingers away from our faces to help dodge Covid, breaking the unconscious habit it tough.

“Once you become aware of how often you do it, you can come up with some substitute behavior,” says Hinda Dubin, a psychiatrist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Dr. Dubin suggests holding a rubber band or stress ball to keep hands occupied—or sitting on them. Applying perfume or scented lotion to hands can also make you more alert to when they are nearing your face, she says. If your hands keep brushing your hair off your face, try a ponytail or a trim. Dry eyes that beg to be rubbed might require wearing glasses more often instead of contacts. “Find the triggers,” Dr. Dubin says.

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What’s the best way to remember to not touch your face? Join the conversation below.

John Mongiovi, a hypnotist based in New York, uses direct commands in a free hypnotic recording he made to help people keep their hands off their faces. “You do not touch your face with dirty hands,” his deep voice repeats over a slow dance beat. “You never touch your eyes, your nose, or mouth.”

Mr. Mongiovi says he wrote the meditation in iambic pentameter so the rhythm would help people relax during the seven-minute, 15-second recording. Long before the pandemic, many of the problems his clients sought help for involved hands coming to the mouth, such as smoking, overeating and nail-biting. In recent months several clients have needed help with these habits returning, caused by increased stress, Mr. Mongiovi says. 

For them, he sometimes makes custom recordings that focus on interrupting the hands coming to the mouth. “You notice any urge to touch your face, and suddenly your arms and hands feel heavy and calm,” he says.

NoSweat Performance liner in a baseball hat.


NoSweat Performance, Inc.

Before the pandemic, NoSweat Performance Inc. liners were mainly promoted for athletes to absorb perspiration inside caps, visors and helmets. But seeing health-care workers struggle with forehead irritation caused by plastic face shields, NoSweat executives decided to start manufacturing liners that would fit inside personal-protection equipment. Absorbing sweat helps keep the shields from fogging and reducing skin irritation and discomfort helps keep medical workers’ hands from their faces, says NoSweat Chief Executive David Holt.

Now, NoSweat highlights how its liners “eliminate the need to touch/wipe the face,” including those for construction hard hats, sun visors, hockey and bike helmets and baseball caps.

Sales of HabitAware’s Keen device, which costs $129, are up 50% since April compared to the year-before period, boosted in part by people seeking technology to help stop touching their face, the company says. The device resembles a fitness watch and before the pandemic was sold as a tool to curb hair-pulling, skin-picking and nail-biting. 

Keen first records the user’s unwanted gesture—including wrist angle, position, motion and speed—to recognize the repetitive movement. Once that gesture is recorded on the device, whenever the user does it, the bracelet vibrates as a reminder to stop. The device syncs with an app to track behavioral patterns and progress, and a button initiates a deep-breathing exercise so users can replace their unwanted behavior with a healthy one, the company says.

HabitAware’s Keen2 smart bracelet and app.



Sales also grew because the stress of the pandemic caused more people to seek relief from the repetitive habits the device was originally intended for, says Aneela Idnani, the company’s co-founder.

“The parallel of face-touching to these other behaviors is this idea that you can’t just stop because you don’t know that it’s happening,” she says.

Kristin Damian’s anxiety about transferring germs from door handles, light switches, ATMs and her office park’s security-code buttons to her hands and face motivated her to start manufacturing “touchless keyrings” this spring.

Krissyanne Designs ‘touchless keyring.’


Kristin Damian/Krissyanne Designs

The large acrylic keys come with a heart-shaped handle and can be used to push buttons or pull open lever door handles. They come in rainbow colors similar to the cheery aesthetic used throughout Ms. Damian’s sticker and accessories company, Krissyanne Designs. “Covid isn’t very fun—if we could add a little bit of fun in your day, good,” she says.

Kay Ball, a surgery nurse and adjunct professor of nursing in Lewis Center, Ohio, for 45 years has been professionally committed to keeping her hands from her face and has trained students to do the same. Nevertheless, she still thinks of herself as a “face-toucher” and suspects that was how she contracted Covid-19, for which she was hospitalized in April. “Who knows how I got it, maybe I got it at the store, I may have touched something and touched my face,” she says.

Now, whenever she shops she keeps her hands planted on the cart—wiping the handle with hand sanitizer first, a bottle of which she keeps strapped to the outside of her purse—and sometimes also wears surgical gloves to be more aware of what she is touching. She catches herself touching her face most often when she is tired.

“You’re yawning and you automatically put your hand in front of your mouth,” she says. “You just have to continually remind yourself ‘do not touch your face, do not touch your face,’ even though I still catch myself touching my face.”

Kay Ball on a recent shopping trip.


Ball family

Write to Ellen Byron at [email protected]

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