Can a £40 smart wristband stop me touching my face?

This $49.99 band was originally created for OCD sufferers. Can it help us fight coronavirus?

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The Immutouch band
The Immutouch band Credit: Immutouch

Remember the days before “stay at home” became the mantra? Back when we thought elbow bumps and sneezing into a tissue could beat this thing?

“Don’t touch your face” was the order of every day, and for such a simple instruction, something that was incredibly difficult. 

It seems that we touch our faces all the time without even thinking about it. There are biological reasons why this is the case - we have nerves which respond positively to the feeling of touching our faces. It’s a way to signal your self-awareness to others, and could also be a stress-relief technique. 

But it’s not a good idea in the midst of a global pandemic caused by a highly communicable disease, and I found I was spending a good 20 to 30pc of every day just thinking about how I should not be touching my face. 

So when I read about a company that had a product it said could help you stop, I didn’t think twice before pressing “buy”. 

Immutouch’s band, which costs $49.99 (£41) plus $10 postage, was originally invented to help those with trichotillomania, a condition which causes people to compulsively pull out their hair.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic gathered pace, the founders realised that their product might have a wider use. 

“My father is immunocompromised,” says Justin Ith, the company’s 25-year-old co-founder, who lives in Seattle, USA. “So it was really important to me that everyone in my family was extra hygienic. 

“Everyone - the CDC, the WHO, says stop touching your face, or avoid touching your face, but when you start thinking about it you do it so often.” 

Since the new product launched on March 9, demand has been through the roof. Thousands of orders have poured in from around the world, including the UK, which has been the company’s fifth-largest market. 

The company’s small team have been assembling the bands in their living room, and they’re expecting parts for another 5,000 to arrive in the coming weeks. 

So did it work for me? The most disconcerting thing about it is that in order to set it up, you actually have to touch your eyes, mouth and nose, so that the band knows where they are and the movement your arm makes to reach them. 

This feels very wrong in the current environment, but the evening after it arrives in the post I scrub my hands diligently before sitting on the sofa, inputting several face-touching hotspots.

This is where the problem starts. Once I get off the sofa to sit at my desk, the band buzzes incessantly, punishing me for reaching for my mouse or making notes in my notebook. 

This is a known problem, says Ith, and a future update will allow you to update the app to tell it when you’re moving to different positions, and eventually to detect it automatically.

So I wipe all the touch-points and start again, this time sitting at my desk. This is more successful. The buzzing isn’t painful - it’s like a phone or Fitbit vibration. 

But it’s just annoying enough to make me think twice before absent-mindedly scratching my nose or leaning my chin on my hand. 

I think the main benefit is that it interrupts an otherwise unconscious motion - I’m more aware of what I’m doing with my hands because I know that certain movements will provoke an irritating buzz. 

It hasn’t been without glitches - the app is prone to crashing and it runs out of battery quickly. It also buzzes for a lot of false positives, like raising your hand to hang up a jacket or open a kitchen cupboard, issues Ith says are being addressed in future updates

I also have to take it off or pause it in the evenings, because it buzzes every time I take a sip of wine. There are some bad habits I’d rather not give up.