Skin Issues Caused By Coronavirus Lockdown, And How To Deal With Them

Your sleep, exercise, diet and skin care routines are likely very different during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here's what to do.

If you’re not one of the many essential workers either laboring to save lives during the coronavirus pandemic or provide those of us able to stay home with the necessities to stay there, you’re probably not going outside much right now.

Chances are you’re eating different foods. You may not be exercising as much. Or maybe you’re exercising more. You may not be sleeping well, or at odd times. And you’re likely pretty stressed out right now.

As a result of all of this ― plus all the other factors in your life ― your skin is probably freaking out in a number of ways. We talked to two dermatologists about how to take care of your skin when all your normal routines have been upended.

Thirty percent of people pick at their skin, and times of stress and anxiety can make people pick more than they normally would.
Ada Yokota via Getty Images
Thirty percent of people pick at their skin, and times of stress and anxiety can make people pick more than they normally would.

“Your skin is a reflection of your overall health,” said Heather D. Rogers, owner of Modern Dermatology in Seattle and Doctor Rogers Restore skin care. “Focusing on just your skin is too microscopic.”

You need to take care of your whole self.

Get enough sleep

“You need a schedule and you need to get eight hours of sleep,” Rogers said. She suggests setting an alarm to tell you when to go to bed, as well as when to get up.

This seems very simple, but inadequate sleep can cause your body to release more cortisol (the stress hormone) that can cause inflammation in your skin, which can manifest as acne or psoriasis.

Remember to exercise.

You’ve probably heard that exercise causes your body to release endorphins, those wonderful little morphine-like hormone molecules that elevate your mood.

Exercise also burns cortisone, Rogers said, making it a great way to reduce stress and anxiety and help keep your skin clear.

What if you’re exercising more?

“Exercise elevates testosterone levels, which can wake up acne,” Rogers said.

If you find yourself working out more than once a day because, well, you have the time, just remember to wash your face before and after (as well as taking a shower post workout).

“Please don’t sit around in your sweat,” said Nazanin Saedi, director of the Jefferson Laser Surgery and Cosmetic Dermatology Center at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, “and wash your face.”

What about all that sun you’re not getting?

We all know the importance of wearing sunscreen to protect our skin from harmful UV rays, but what happens when we spend too much time inside? First, our bodies still need vitamin D, so consider taking a supplement or getting a UV light, Rogers said. The U.S. Institute of Medicine suggests an average daily intake of 400–800 IU, or 10–20 micrograms of vitamin D.

Supplements or UV lights can help boost the vitamin D levels of those who can't get outside.
undefined undefined via Getty Images
Supplements or UV lights can help boost the vitamin D levels of those who can't get outside.

“Many people are inside in dry, conditioned environments,” Saedi said, “and this can lead to drier skin.” She suggests using a humidifier to help put some moisture into the air. (A bonus: Recent research shows that high temperature and high relative humidity may reduce the transmission of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus). “Also, try not to take too many long, hot showers: the hot water sucks the moisture out of your skin.”

Use skin masks, peels and exfoliators with caution.

With extra time on your hands, you might be tempted to indulge in all kinds of masks, exfoliators and peels. Rogers cautions about getting carried away with these kinds of treatments.

“You could really be jacking your skin,” she said. “All of that exfoliating and peeling affects your skin’s acid mantle. You have good bacteria and bad bacteria. You don’t want to get rid of all your good stuff. If you over treat, your pH levels go up and that can lead to skin problems.”

Don’t forget to moisturize after you wash your hands.

We’re all washing our hands much more often (or we should be!). Saedi said she’s been seeing a lot more hand eczema cases with her patients.

“All that washing and hand sanitizer dries out the skin,” she said. Many people are experiencing cracked and chapped hands. “If your hands are cracking, Vaseline is one of the best things you can use.”

You don’t even have to buy one of Vaseline’s hand lotions, you can just use the regular, original petroleum jelly if you want.

Avoid picking and scratching in your newfound free time.

Both Rogers and Saedi caution against excessive skin picking and scratching.

“Thirty percent of people pick at their skin,” Rogers said. Times of stress and anxiety can make people pick more than they normally would. The most common areas that women pick are the neck and back, while men tend to pick at the skin on their calves.

If you notice yourself picking at a higher intensity than you’d like, Rogers suggests using an ice pack or a package of frozen vegetables to quiet your nerves. “Nerves can’t itch and be cold at the same time,” she said, “so the ice cold will stop the itchy feeling.”

Avoid foods with a high glycemic index

A healthy, balanced diet is good for your skin, too. While there is no one miracle food that will give you great skin, there are foods you should try to avoid. “Foods with a high glycemic index are not good for your skin,” Saedi said.

Some foods with a high glycemic index (a relative ranking of how carbohydrates affect blood glucose levels) include boxed cereals, white bread, rice and crackers.

Anything rich in antioxidants ― foods like strawberries, spinach, raspberries and artichokes ― are good choices to support overall health.

Running out of skin care? There are household items you can use.

While none of the following should necessarily make up your entire regular skin routine, Rogers said that coconut oil has been shown to help with eczema and blocked pores on your body. “Don’t put on your face, though,” she said.

You can, however, use castor oil on your face. As a source of triglycerides (which help retain moisture in the skin), ricinoleic (an anti-inflammatory) and other fatty acids, castor oil can be beneficial to your skin. Just keep in mind that there isn’t a lot of real research about the use of home cooking oils so results can vary.

“If you have a dry scalp and hair, sleep with some olive oil massaged into your scalp and it should help,” Rogers added.

“All in all, take advantage of being less rushed,” Saedi said, “Take care of yourself. Moisturize. Be compliant with your skin care regime. If you’ve haven’t had time in the past to stick to a routine, now is an excellent opportunity to do that.”

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