Mask-Wearing Reduces Face-Touching Among Health Care Providers

By Steve Tokar | | July 14, 2020

Monica Jain, MD, front left, clinical fellow in Endocrine Surgery, and Julie Ann Sosa, MD, MA, FACS, front right, chair of Surgery, with medical students. Photo by Susan Merrell

Health care practitioners who wore masks touched their faces significantly less often than practitioners who did not wear masks, according to a new study led by Robert Goldsby, MD, a UC San Francisco professor of clinical pediatrics.

Among a group of 40 health care professionals observed by the study authors, those without masks touched their faces nearly four times as often as those who wore masks, indicating that masks not only are an effective barrier to disease transmission, but also may reduce face-touching, at least among health care professionals.

“In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a timely issue,” said Goldsby, a pediatric cancer specialist at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals. “Our study, while limited, addresses a potential misconception that masks increase face-touching behavior. There is no evidence that masks increase face touching, and in fact our data suggest otherwise.”

For the study, which published online in Pediatric Blood and Cancer on July 1, 2020, the researchers monitored and recorded face-touching among a group of nurses, social workers, residents, fellows and attending physicians who were attending a meeting in a hospital conference room. Twenty-four wore masks most of the time and 16 did not.

The study found that those who wore masks touched their faces a median of 5.4 times an hour, while those who did not wear masks touched their faces a median of 20 times an hour.

“Health care professionals may be used to wearing masks and this may, in part, explain why they touch their faces less often with a mask on,” said Goldsby. “Also, if this is true, perhaps as the general public use masks more often, they too may touch their faces less often with a mask.”