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Advice on coronavirus (COVID-19) for people with eczema

Last updated 02.04

We appreciate that this is a difficult and confusing time for everyone, and we aim to support you through it as best we can. As COVID-19 is a new condition, there is much about it that is unknown. Please check back frequently as we will update this page as new information that may be relevant to people with eczema comes to light. For more general information on coronavirus/COVID-19, please see the NHS website.

What should I use for washing my hands?

The Government advice is to wash hands with soap and water more often and more thoroughly than usual to remove the virus if present. However, frequent washing of hands with soap can cause problems for people with eczema, including dry skin and hand eczema.

The purpose of handwashing is to remove virus particles and bacteria by washing with water. Using soap or emollient while washing hands can help remove any dirt or flaking skin that might harbour virus particles and generally aid the cleansing process.

Recently, on 25 March 2020, the dermatologist professional body (British Association of Dermatologists) said that washing hands with emollients may not be as effective as using soap for removing the virus. This is because virus particles could be left on the skin within the residual emollient that has not been washed away.

With this latest health advice, National Eczema Society is now recommending people with eczema follow the Government guidance to wash hands with soap and water, rather than an emollient soap substitute, as much as practically possible. It is very important people find ways of managing dry skin and hand eczema that may be caused or worsened by frequent washing with soap.

Strategies for this include:

  • After washing hands with soap and water, re-wash using emollient to help protect the skin.
  • Use emollients to moisturise the hands after washing and at other times during the day when the skin feels dry and sore.
  • Dry hands well after washing by gently patting them dry, not rubbing.
  • Rehydrate sore dry hands overnight, using an ointment and wearing clean cotton gloves.
  • Wear nitrile gloves if you need to handle detergents or other cleaning products that can irritate the skin. These provide a physical barrier for the skin and can be purchased from chemists or from online shops.
  • If you develop more severe hand eczema or suspect your skin is infected, you should contact your GP and may need prescription medicine to reduce the inflammation.

If you feel you need to use sanitising gel (which may irritate your eczema), apply your usual emollient afterwards to minimise any irritant effect. There is no eczema-friendly hand sanitiser, as they all contain alcohol, which dries out the skin.

In public places where you can’t avoid touching surfaces, try not to touch your nose, eyes or mouth (or your child’s) because the virus gets in through mucous membranes.

Am I more likely to develop COVID-19 as a result of having eczema?

There is no evidence to suggest that people with eczema are more likely to develop COVID-19 or to experience a more severe form of the condition if they do develop it.

If I have open cracks or splits in my skin, am I more likely to pick up COVID-19?

We don’t know for certain at the moment whether this is or is not the case. However, because coronavirus seems to be spread through respiratory droplets from the coughs and sneezes of an infected person that land in the mouths, noses and airways of people nearby, it seems to be unlikely that a damaged skin barrier would increase the risk of developing COVID-19.

I am taking an immunosuppressant drug/biologic drug/oral steroid – should I stop taking it?

It is important that you ONLY discontinue medication on advice from your dermatologist.

I am taking an immunosuppressant drug/biologic drug/oral steroid – should I ‘shield’ myself?

This depends on several factors, including the medication you are on and whether you have any other significant medical problem.

The British Association of Dermatologists has produced a helpful grid (linked), which categorises people’s levels of risk and whether they should shield (i.e. stay at home at all times for 12 weeks) based on the medication they are taking and other factors. It applies to both adults and children.

Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital has produced FAQ on coronavirus and eczema (linked), which explains in detail the difference between shielding and very careful social distancing, and provides a self-assessment risk calculator.

How can I cope with the stress caused by this situation, which is making my eczema worse?

Some of the ways we normally relieve stress and anxiety (e.g. exercise classes, meeting friends, going for long countryside walks) are not possible at the moment, unfortunately.

You might find it helpful to do relaxation exercises and mindfulness exercises. The article on managing stress from our magazine Exchange on our Living with eczema page gives examples of relaxation and mindfulness exercises (pages 2 and 3). There are also plenty of guided visualisations available for free on YouTube, which are designed to help relieve anxiety and help you get to sleep, plus online yoga and fitness classes.

Try to keep up a good eczema management regime. Make sure you apply emollient liberally and frequently (at least twice a day, and every few hours when the skin is very dry), and use your other treatments as recommended by your healthcare professional. For more information on managing eczema, please see our booklets and factsheets. You can also contact us through our Helpline.

We have more tips on staying at home and managing eczema here.