Humans are creatures of habit, and one of the trickiest to kick is the constant touching of hands to the face. Even in the womb, babies have a natural inclination to brings their fingers in for a closer encounter. It feels familiar, but it can also be harmful to your health by transferring germs and bacteria from various surfaces to your face. A key to staying healthy is being mindful of your behavior, and stop touching your face.

Switch the habit

When you're tempted to touch your face, re-focus on alternative but similar behaviors that don't involve your face. For example, if you catch yourself raising your hand toward your face, touch your arm or shoulder instead. This small switch will direct you away from your face without forcing you to completely change your behavior, making it much easier to stick to.

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Rethink your routines

Maybe you've nibbled a fingertip and broken the skin, or you touched your eye and now it's irritated. Bad habits don't start overnight, but with some changes in routine, you can easily break them before it's too late. Instead of flossing in front of the TV, wash your hands first and use the bathroom mirror. When you order at the drive-thru, wait until you sanitize your hands before sneaking french fries with dirty fingers. If you tend to touch your face when stress levels are high, consider meditation or relaxation techniques. The better you can manage stress, the less likely you are to facepalm in the presence of anxiety.

Deal with stress effectively Patrik Giardino / Getty Images


Raise your awareness

Putting your hands to your face is a natural, comforting gesture. Quitting the urge to do so requires a massive behavioral change, so don't feel bad if you have to take desperate measures. Leave sticky notes with reminders on all the mirrors in the house. Change your smartphone's wallpaper to an image that will remind you not to touch your face, and change it out when it's no longer useful. Don't hesitate to include your family and coworkers, and call each other out when fingers meet faces.

Leave yourself reminder notes South_agency / Getty Images


No more nibbles

The fastest way to introduce bacteria into your system is by putting your dirty hands into your mouth. Even after you've washed your hands, you still might come into contact with dirty surfaces like your phone, remote control, or steering wheel. Motivate yourself to keep those fingers out of your mouth with a shiny new manicure, or invest in nail-biting deterrent polish. The clear coat lacquer dries into a bitter varnish that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. If you find yourself picking at chapped lips, carry a tube of lip balm around to keep your pucker supple and flake-free.

Don't bite your fingernails Jon Feingersh Photography Inc / Getty Images


Steer clear of the eyes and nose

Keeping your hands out of your mouth is one way to stay healthy, but your eyes and nose are equally as susceptible to the dirty business on your fingertips. That means you should keep a box of tissues nearby for itches on your face and in your eyes. If you have allergies, keep a stash of antihistamines in the medicine cabinet to prevent a runny nose, and use eyedrops to treat itchy eyelids. You might also find it helpful to ditch your contact lenses and switch to glasses during flu season to avoid touching your eyes.

Touch your face with tissues BakiBG / Getty Images


No more pimple popping

Limiting hand-to-face contact is a worthy challenge, but it also comes with some fringe benefits. The less you transfer dirt and oils to the surface of your skin, the less likely you are to develop blemishes and aggravate existing acne. It isn't a cure for chronic breakouts, but not touching your face prevents you from pore-clogging tendencies. Popping pimples and picking at blackheads are almost guaranteed to spread more bacteria from your fingernails to your broken skin. It also causes scarring and skin discoloration.

Popping pimples spreads bacteria PeopleImages / Getty Images


Use the black dot technique

As you get better at not touching your face, don't forget the most strategic measure in staying healthy through every season. Regular handwashing significantly lowers your chances of spreading illness to yourself and others. Use a black marker to draw a black dot on each palm, and on the back of each hand. Every time you raise your hand to touch your face or hair, you'll notice the large ink spot and remember to keep those fingers at bay. When you do wash your hands, concentrate on rubbing the ink away. It should last a few handwashings, and when it's faded, renew the black dot and start over again.

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Keep idle hands busy

Even with a pricey new manicure or a spot of ink on your hand, you may still have trouble remembering why you did those things in the first place. If you find yourself in a similar dilemma, it may be time to put your hands to work. Twiddle your thumbs or doodle on a pad of paper during a meeting. Clasp your hands behind your back when you'd otherwise be touching your face, and invest in hand grips or a set of Baoding balls. The next time you find yourself on the couch or sitting in traffic, you can get started strengthening your hand muscles.

Keep your hands busy Hemera Technologies / Getty Images


Be strategic

If you can't seem to completely kick your face-touching habit, try your best to avoid specific parts of your face. The rule of thumb for protecting your health is to steer clear of your T-zone. This area is the T shape created by your forehead and brow, the bridge of your nose, and your mouth. When you touch your face, germs on your fingers can enter your system through membranes in your mouth, nose, and eyes. By avoiding those vulnerable spots on your face, you may reduce the likelihood of germs entering your system, though it's best to keep your hands away altogether.

Don't touch your face or hair Peter Griffith / Getty Images


Lead by example

If you've ever spent enough time with someone, you might have noticed that you picked up a few of their quirks. This behavior is called mirroring, and it happens when people unconsciously imitate others' attitudes, gestures, or speech patterns. It's more likely to happen with close friends or family, so why not use the science for positive change? Lead by example, and make routines out of frequent handwashing and sanitizing frequently-touched surfaces. Create fun conversations by using your hands to gesture away from your T-Zone. You never know who you're influencing.

Lead by example with handwashing AleksandarNakic / Getty Images


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