We’re growing increasingly aware of the effects that COVID-19 has on numerous parts of our bodies beyond our lungs, especially since the pandemic has stretched into 2022.

From swollen and discoloured “COVID toes” to “pandemic hair loss” that’s exacerbated by daily stressors, more people have started reporting skin symptoms. These can appear right after infection or arise days later.

Now, netizens have coined a term for the dermal issue: “COVID skin”.

What is “COVID skin”?


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A post shared by Sali Hughes (@salihughes)

Back in January 2022, British beauty journalist Sali Hughes posted a video on Instagram, and it really resonated with many of her followers. She shared that she had contracted COVID-19 over Christmas in 2021, causing her skin to go “bananas”.

About a day after testing positive for the virus, her skin started to string and feel incredibly itchy – something that was totally new to her as she didn’t have sensitive skin that’s prone to irritation before contracting the virus.

Skincare actives in her routine like tretinoin stung her skin upon application. She would experience a brief burning sensation when she reached for her usual morning skincare products too.

After posting about it on Instagram, hundreds of comments echoed her experience, claiming that “COVID skin” is indeed a real thing.

One follower wrote, “OMG! This is exactly what has been happening to me for a couple of months now. I kept calling it my Covid face! Yesterday it was so bad I woke up and the right side was swollen.”

Sali was also quick to note that her post “in no way constitutes medical advice, it is simply based on my own experience. Consult a doctor if in any doubt around any symptoms.”

But is “COVID skin” a real thing?

what is covid skin

We reached out to aesthetic doctor, Dr Rachel Ho, to find out if “COVID skin” is indeed a cause for concern,

In short, “COVID skin” does exist. “One of the dermatological manifestations of COVID-19 is a rash. The pattern of COVID-19 rashes is quite varied – from urticaria, vesicles (blisters) to maculopapular rashes,” she says.

Sound confusing? They are simply descriptions of different types of rashes. “Urticaria presents as red, itchy welts. Vesicles are fluid-filled blisters. A maculopapular rash refers to a red rash with flat and raised parts,” Dr Ho explains.

“Approximately 20% of patients infected with COVID-19 develop skin reactions, including rashes,” she says. This is based on a few published studies on skin reactions related to the virus.

Dr Ho also saw a spike in the number of patients who have reported said skin sensitivities. “A handful of my patients have developed skin sensitivity and rashes during their COVID infection. These sensations and rashes resolved spontaneously within a week,” she shares.

Is it possible to develop rashes from other viral illnesses?

covid skin viral illnesses

When we catch other viral illnesses, our skin can change too. “Viral infections, in general, can also cause a rash,” Dr Ho adds.

“This type of rash is called a viral exanthem and is due to the infection or toxins released by the virus.” It can also be triggered by the body’s immunological response to the virus.

A couple of common examples of viruses that cause viral exanthems are “pox and measles”.

A viral infection isn’t just the only trigger for skin issues, though. “Stress has been linked to urticaria or hives and is colloquially known as ‘stress rash’,” Dr Ho shares. “The appearance is that of raised, red, itchy rashes that disappear in a few days to weeks.”

Turns out, emotional stress, psychological stress, as well as sleep deprivation can affect the way our body regulates our hormones and immune system. “Under stress, there is an increase in the histamine and inflammatory response in the skin, causing ‘stress rash’,” she leads on.

Skincare products to turn to & ingredients to steer clear of if you have “COVID skin”

If you’re currently experiencing “COVID skin” or rashes in general, Dr Ho says you should choose skin-strengthening ingredients such as lipids and ceramides, as well as anti-inflammatory ingredients like niacinamide.

She adds that you should put down the acids and retinoids when you’re experiencing “COVID skin” too. “These may transiently disrupt the skin barrier and worsen any irritation,” she explains.

“The key is don’t do very much. Three steps: just a cleanser, a calming serum, and plenty of barrier-protecting moisturisers,” Sali Hughes advised in her video. “That’s what I did twice a day, and as I said, I kept layering on the moisturiser whenever I was kind of itchy or red and it worked a treat. Truly, I was back to normal very quickly.”

covid skin aveeno

If you’re looking for gentle cleansers, one that we recommend is Aveeno’s Calm + Restore Nourishing Oat Cleanser. Formulated with soothing Feverfew, it gently lifts away dirt and impurities as it preserves your skin’s moisture barrier.

covid skin paulas choice

A barrier-repairing serum we turn to time and again is undoubtedly Paula’s Choice’s Omega+ Complex Serum, a lotion-like formula that’s infused with ceramides as well as omega 3, 6, and 9 oils to nourish your skin.

covid skin bioderma sensibio defensive

As for moisturiser, we’re currently loving the Bioderma Sensibio Defensive, a cream that replenishes moisture and strengthens the skin with biomimetic glycerin and squalane.

covid skin la roche posay

Struggling to appease red, angry patches of skin? Try layering La Roche-Posay’s Cicaplast Baume B5 on top of your moisturiser. It has a rich, nourishing texture that delivers soothing madecassoside as well as a blend of copper, zinc, and manganese for optimal skin barrier recovery.

Featured image credit: xFrame.io