Can COVID affect my skin?
Many people get skin problems every year. You can get a skin problem after having COVID and here are some of the more common conditions:
Your fingers and toes may become tender and swell up, which can be painful. The fingers and toes of people with lighter skin can look purple, like a bruise whereas the fingers and toes of people with brown or black skin can look darker. This happens more often to young people.
“COVID Digits” may last for more than 12 weeks and your fingers and toes may heal slowly as you get better from COVID and the skin may peel off as they heal.
Painkillers such as paracetamol can help with the pain. Please contact your healthcare professional if the signs of infection such as redness spreading on the skin, or if pain is not relieved by paracetamol.
Sores or ulcers
Sores or ulcers can appear on your lips and inside or around your mouth if you have COVID. This usually calms down within two weeks and may be helped by antiseptic mouthwashes which stop infections.
Please see your pharmacist if your ulcers:
- Last longer than 3 weeks
- Keep coming back
- Grow bigger than usual or is near the back of your throat
- Bleed or become more painful – this may be a sign of an infection
Although most mouth ulcers are harmless, a long-lasting mouth ulcer is sometimes a sign of mouth cancer. It’s best to get it checked.
Rashes can last for weeks while you are recovering from COVID.
A large and itchy rash with tiny lumps and blisters can occur either during COVID or weeks later. This can last for weeks while you are recovering and if it is an issue, treatment with moisturising or steroid creams can help.
COVID can also cause a very itchy, large rash called urticaria; also known as nettle rash or hives. It can appear suddenly as smooth bumps on the skin which can come and go quite quickly. This can happen when you first have COVID but can last for months. If it is an issue, treatment with moisturising or steroid creams can help. Antihistamine tablets from a chemist can also help with the itch.
- If the rash is on your face and causes swelling of the lips or tongue, please contact NHS 111 for advice
- If the swelling is causing breathing problems, you should call 999
COVID can also cause a rash on the body called pityriasis rosea. This starts with a single, large red patch, followed a few days later by many smaller red/darker patches on the middle part of your body, for example, your chest, stomach or back. These are not too itchy. On darker skin, the patches can be darker, brown or black. This rash goes away by itself after several months. Moisturisers and steroid creams can be helpful if the rash is causing problems.
Another rash that is caused by COVID is an itchy large rash called a viral exanthem. This can be lumpy and flat. It is red in people with lighter skin and brown/black in people with darker skin. It usually heals after a week or so with peeling of the skin. It is similar to when you get sunburn. Moisturisers and steroid creams can help with the itch.
Blisters are common following a COVID infection. If a rash, on one side of your body, appears as blotches on your skin and then develop into itchy blisters, this could be shingles. Please contact your GP as soon as you suspect that you have shingles. You may need medicine to help you recover and avoid longer-lasting problems. This type of medicine works best if it is taken within 3 days of your symptoms starting.
Two rashes that need urgent medical attention
Most rashes people get with COVID calm down but there are two rashes which need urgent medical help:
Children can get a rash called PIMS (Paediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome) which causes them to have a high temperature and feel unwell. Other symptoms include:
- Swollen hands and feet
- Red eyes
- Feeling hot or cold
- Aches and pains
- Diarrhoea and vomiting
If you have a purple, dark brown or black tender lumpy rash, this is called purpura and it can be found anywhere on your skin. These areas are due to bleeding in the skin and do not change colour when they are pressed.
If purpura appears suddenly and if you also have a high temperature, this can be a sign of a serious infection (septicaemia) and you must get urgent medical advice from NHS 111.
What happens if I already have a skin problem?
You should carry on treating your skin problem as you have been advised.
Being stressed or worried can make your skin problem worse.
If you are worried about your skin problem or treatment, you should contact your GP surgery or dermatology team for advice. The dermatology team has specialist healthcare workers who help to treat skin problems.
I have a skin problem on my hands – should I change the way I wash my hands?
To help stop the spread of COVID and other viruses, it is important to wash your hands regularly.
If you have a skin problem, it could get worse if you wash your hands regularly.
Moisturising cream can help if you use it every time you wash your hands or changing to a soap that is softer on the skin.
Ask a pharmacist for suggestions on soap and the best cream if normal hand cream does not help.
How to wash your hands when you have a skin problem:
- Wash hands using soap and water
- This can be hard if you have dry and cracked skin
- Dry your hands by patting them with a clean, soft towel or cloth
- Do not rub them dry
Having a shower or bath
- You can use moisturiser instead of soap
- Moisturiser does not kill the COVID virus but can help with dry skin problems when washing
- Some people use moisturiser before a shower or bath
- You can also use moisturiser overnight
- You can wear rubber gloves at other times when your hands get wet, for example, washing up dishes, washing your hair or cleaning
If normal rubber gloves do not help:
- Ask your chemist for advice
- Go online to buy special gloves for people with a skin condition
What should I do if my skin condition is getting worse?
You should talk to a chemist if your skin is:
- Leaking liquid or pus
- Has yellow crusts
They may suggest you use a different moisturiser or a steroid cream or that you see your GP if you need stronger medicine.
My face mask is causing skin problems, what should I do?
Wearing a face mask can give you skin problems or make your skin problem worse.
Acne produces spots under face masks. This is caused by a build-up of sweat and oil. You can reduce this by washing your face daily, using an oil-free moisturiser, washing cloth face masks regularly, avoiding heavy makeup and removing your mask whenever it is safe to do so. You can speak to your local chemist for advice on treatment. You may need to see your GP for prescribed medicines.
Rosacea under face masks can cause spots, tiny lumps and changes to the colour of your skin which may be red, purple, or brown, depending on your skin colour. This often needs prescribed medicine from your GP.
Eczema under masks may become worse due to irritation, allergies or reactions to skin yeast. This may be helped by moisturisers but may also need prescribed medicines.
Do not stop taking your medicine
- We are learning all the time about how COVID affects people and how they recover from COVID
- If you have a health condition and you are getting better from COVID, do not stop taking your regular medicine unless a GP or nurse tells you to
- If you stop taking your medicine, you could make your condition much worse
- Some medicines can change your immune system – your immune system helps to fight off COVID and other viruses
- If you are worried or have any questions about your medicine, speak to your local pharmacist, GP or healthcare professional
- If you are unable to pick up your medicine, you can have them delivered to you – ask your GP surgery or pharmacy
- If you need to go to hospital, remember to take an up-to-date list of your medicine with you
- Your medicine should not stop you from having a COVID vaccine, but you will be asked about the medicines you take before you get the vaccine
Useful information about skin conditions and COVID
- Typical skin appearances associated with COVID: This website is run by researchers from the British Association of Dermatologists and has images from the COVID Symptom Study app developed by ZOE Global Ltd.
- Information on COVID and PPE related occupational skin disorders seen in care staff wearing face masks, visors, goggles, and gloves.
- NICE guidance: For dermatology patients taking drugs affecting the immune system.
- Advice on dry skin and frequent hand washing
- Information on how to manage hand dermatitis/eczema
- Guidance for dermatology patients on remote consultations