How many times a day do you touch your face? What about rest your chin or cheeks on the back of your hands? It's probably a lot. But between turning door knobs, typing feverishly on iPhones and tying shoelaces, our hands come in contact with millions of germs. Does this make hands our greatest skincare enemy?
To find out if touching your face is really as bad as it seems, we reached out to board-certified dermatologist and Heal Your Skin author Dr. Ava Shamban. Below, she clears up the hands and acne myth and explains the potentially harmful habit that can result from touching your face.
Hands down... touching your face is gross.
"Bacteria, viruses and allergens transfer from fingertips onto the skin. Also, repeatedly rubbing the skin can do some real damage," said Dr. Shamban. "Rubbing the eyes, for example, can actually create microscopic tears in the tissue (making the eye area look older faster), break the capillaries in the eyelids (causing little thread-like veins called telangiectasia) or break the capillaries under the eye (intensifying dark circles)."
When getting touchy-touchy goes wrong.
"Touching doesn't cause the following but most definitely worsens acne, contact dermatitis and herpes simplex," explained Dr. Shamban. "In the case of herpes, for example, if you have a breakout either on your lip or genitalia and you inadvertently touch your eyes, this can lead to herpes keratitis, which in turn can lead to blindness. And it's very easy to transfer genital herpes to the lips if you're not careful."
The real deal on breakouts and touching your face is...
"If you are acne-prone, absolutely face-touching can lead to breakouts. Rather than the word 'cause,' however, think 'trigger.' Acne is caused by the confluence three factors: excess oil, excess skin shedding and p. acnes bacteria," said Dr. Shamban. "What touching can do is spread existing p. acnes -- the culprit behind red inflammatory acne papules, pustules and cysts -- on the surface and beneath the surface of the skin. Beneath the skin is where it does the most damage because it can spread to other pores and manifest in yet another pimple."
Not all body secretions are created equal.
"Touching can make the face more prone to breakouts or other conditions, again because it spreads bacteria and other bugs," according to Dr. Shamban. She explained, "The oil on your face (sebum) is produced by the sebaceous glands in a pore containing a hair follicle, though the hair itself may be imperceptible to the naked eye. The actual quantities of sebum production are determined by genetics and hormones (as in puberty, for example). The fingertips and pads of the hands have no hair follicles and thus no sebaceous glands. What you perceive as grease on your fingertips is actually perspiration. Touching may make your face feel greasier but it isn't actually."
Hands aren't the only ways to transfer germs.
"Cell phones are a biggie as are pillow cases or dirty washcloths," said Dr. Shamban. "Acne mechanica, acne exacerbated by sweat, combined with rubbing against things like football helmets, weight benches or violin chin rests, is not uncommon in athletes and musicians."
The proper technique to washing your hands is...
"With mild soap like Dial in lukewarm water for 20 seconds at least," said Dr. Shamban. "It's not a bad idea too to scrub under your nails with a nail brush doused in an anti-bacterial cleanser or soap (even deodorant soap works for this), once a day, again for a minimum of 20 seconds. If that irritates the skin on the back of your hands, just do it on the fingertips and nails."
Touching your face isn't an easy thing to stop doing.
If it's a serious habit that seems impossible to break, Dr. Shamban recommends a session or two with a licensed hypnotherapist. "For a willpower boost, it's simple: Gross yourself out. Think about something we touch every day... money. Now think about your own ready cash -- about every germy person who has handled it and every disgusting place it's been before it landed in your wallet. Well, touching your face is just like rubbing those filthy, dirty dollar bills all over it," said Dr. Shamban. "Touching your face leads to picking, and that's never a good thing because it can cause permanent scarring."
What's your trick to stop touching your face?
Meanwhile, check out these beauty myths that we've debunked (or proven true):
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