In preparation for this article, I was doing some online research. If you could see me at work, you would see my face is resting against the palm of my left hand as I look at the screen…and that may be the biggest mistake I have made today when it comes to preventing the spread of germs and bacteria. In addition to touching my face, both my left and right hands have been used today to pick up my phone; turn doorknobs; tie shoelaces; type on my keyboard; use an ATM; push a revolving door; and scores of other things we no longer even notice.
And each time I use my hands in one of these many ways, germs and bacteria on those surfaces can – and often are – transferred to my hands. So when I rest the palm of my hand on my face, especially if I have not washed my hands recently, germs and bacteria previously located on my keys or the screen of my phone, for instance, have likely found a home on my face.
Just to give you an idea of how serious this can be, according to a report published in this magazine, “British researchers [report that] mobile phones harbor 18 times more bacteria than a flush handle in a typical men’s restroom.” The report was based on studies by Timothy Julian, a Stanford University doctoral student who coauthored a study on the spread of viruses.1
The report went on to say that “the risks of transmitting pathogens from glass surfaces to a person’s skin are relatively high.” Quoting Julian, this publication further reported, “if you put [a] virus on a surface, like an iPhone, about 30 percent of it will get on your fingertips….A fair amount of it may go from your fingers to your eyes, mouth or nose, the most likely routes of infection.”
You could say we have a problem here. After all, it is estimated we touch our face about 3.6 times per hour. Sure, adults are washing their hands more frequently and more effectively today and many of us rub hand sanitizers on our hands throughout the day. So this can help minimize the transfer of pathogens from our hands to our face.2
But what about our children? They likely are touching their faces even more than adults, and for them, proper hand hygiene may be intermittent at best. This means they likely have more chances to get sick due to “touched” viruses, germs and bacteria.
Broadening Our Hygiene Approach
Handwashing is not the only way to attack these germs. Washing our faces more frequently would also combat health risks. I’m well aware that adding regular face cleaning to our daily routine may be a problem for adults. A February 24, 2014, report in USA Today found that women spend on average 55 minutes per day working on their appearance, most of which is spent on applying oils, creams, and cosmetics to their face. And according to a survey of 3,000 British men, the average Brit spends as much as 83 minutes per day on personal grooming, including cleansing, shaving, moisturizing, and applying toners to his face.3
We cannot expect adults to wash their faces throughout the day and then repeat these grooming practices. This means all we can do is warn and educate adults that they should wash hands frequently and avoid touching their face as much as possible.
It is on children, at home and in school, where we must focus our attention. Warning and educating children will only go so far. What we need to do is make hand and face washing fun. And one way to accomplish this is to make it rhyme. A catchy jingle may help many adults as well.
The “Rhyme” Connection
A British doctor found that 55 percent of the doctors and nurses at his hospital were not following hospital guidelines when dealing with asthma management. Nearly 40 percent did not even know that the hospital had asthma management guidelines for its patients.
While it may not sound all that rhythmic to us, according to Time Magazine, which reported on this story:
Using his cell phone, [the doctor] recorded a video of himself singing immortal lines like ‘Aim for 94 percent to 98 percent sats now’ (a reference to the asthma patient’s blood oxygen level). He posted the video to YouTube, and it went viral among the hospital staff. Two months after he released the video, another survey [was conducted] and found that 100 percent of doctors and nurses were aware of the asthma-treatment guidelines and that compliance with the guidelines had increased markedly. [Impressed with the outcome] the doctor reported the results at a meeting of the European Respiratory Society.
What this doctor did and the results he achieved are not uncommon. In fact, songs and rhymes have been used for centuries to help us remember all kinds of information. Studies have even found that we can learn a foreign language easier and faster if we sing the words instead of speak them.4
Rhymes for Kids to Wash Their Face
As far as coming up with a rhyme, song, or jingle to help remind kids to wash their face, we do not need anything elaborate. Instead, what might encourage our kids to wash their hands and face regularly and properly is to teach them to sing “Happy Birthday” twice as they wash their hands and then twice as they wash their face. For example:
Wash your face today,
Wash your face today,
Wash your face, dear Bobby,
Wash your face today.
Wash your hands today,
Wash your hands today,
Wash your hands, dear Bobby,
Wash your hands today.
Another tune might allow for more specifics, for example:
Mary had to wash her face, wash her face, wash her face,
Mary had to wash her face, wash it twice a day.
And every time Mary washed her face, washed her face,
Every time that Mary washed her face, she washed the germs away.
Mary had to wash her hands, wash her hands, wash her hands,
Mary had to wash her hands, before and after meals.
And every time that Mary washed her hands, washed her hand, washed her hands,
Every time that Mary washed her hands, the better she felt that day.
The bottom line is this: we need to encourage kids to wash their hands and faces more frequently. It is for their health and well-being. Putting the instructions to a tune makes it both fun and memorable, which will go a long way in getting kids to do what they need to stay healthy.
Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, and the professional cleaning industry’s leading advocate for promoting sustainability. He is also CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, which offers a cloud-based dashboard that allows organizations to measure, report and improve their sustainability efforts. He is the coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies
1 “Touch-screen devices can harbor flu germs,” Cleaning Maintenance Magazine, October 18, 2010.
2 Based on studies conducted by Dr. Wladimir Alonso, a global health researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
3 Study conducted by Superdrug, a drug store chain in the United Kingdom; it appears it was conducted in the summer of 2012.
4 “Singing can facilitate foreign language learning,” by Karen M. Ludke, PhD, Fernanda Ferria, professor at the University of California, and Katie Overy, Edinburgh College of Art; published in Memory and Cognition, January 2014.