Coronavirus is scary, and you’re probably doing everything you can right now to lower your risk of contracting the virus. That includes practicing social distancing, washing your hands regularly with soap and water, and doing your best to steer clear of people who appear to be sick.
But there’s one more thing that may help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, aka COVID-19, that you’re probably not doing: Washing your face when you come home from being out in public.
COVID-19 is mainly spread from person to person through respiratory droplets that are expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or even be inhaled into the lungs. The virus can also spread after someone touches a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touches their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.
That’s where washing your face comes in. When you’re out in public, it’s possible for you to get droplets of SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—on your hands or even directly on your face. Again, if you happen to touch your face with your unwashed hands, those droplets can make their way into your nose, mouth, or eyes and make you sick. But washing your face when you come in from being out in public can help lower this risk.
While touching infected objects and then touching your face isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads, it’s “certainly not unreasonable” to wash your face when you come home as a means of prevention, Rajeev Fernando, MD, an infectious disease expert in Southampton, NY, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Infectious disease expert Aline M. Holmes, DNP, RN, a clinical associate professor at Rutgers University School of Nursing, agrees. “It’s a good idea, because you don’t know if you accidentally touched your face when you were out. People do this a lot,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Face-touching is much more common than most people realize. Research on how often people touch their faces is limited, but one small study published in the American Journal of Infection Control observed 26 medical students and their face-touching habits. The researchers discovered that students touched their faces an average of 23 times an hour. Of that, 44% involved touching the nose, mouth, and eyes, and 61% were a combination of all three areas. An older study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene also analyzed subjects’ face-touching habits and found that study participants touched their faces an average of 16 times an hour.
The exact number of times you touch your face in a day can vary, but it’s clear that this is a common habit.
If you want to start washing your face when you come home, Holmes says it’s a good idea to first wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Otherwise, you risk transferring germs to your face. Then, wet your face and wash it as usual—it’s that simple. For good measure, add in one of these facial cleansers or a bar of facial cleansing soap.
Face washing isn’t thought to be a major way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but “it’s not a bad idea,” Holmes says.