Rashes, Hives, and Redness: How to Deal with COVID Skin Sensitivity

The research is in—COVID-19 long-haulers can experience COVID skin sensitivity.
Symptoms include rashes, hives, redness, inflammation, and more.
What’s going on here, and is there anything you can do about it?
Covid Skin Sensitivity: What Is It?
Though considered a rare side effect of the COVID-19 virus, skin sensitivity has been reported in scientific journals and by major medical groups.
The Mayo Clinic, for example, notes that the most common skin changes linked with the virus include “a flat rash covered with small bumps,” as well as hives and even discolored areas on the fingers and toes—what is sometimes called “COVID toes.”
Blisters, itchiness, rough skin, or painful bumps may also occur, lasting from 10-14 days or longer.

What Does the Research Say About COVID Skin Sensitivity?
In a 2020 review, researchers looked at 43 studies on COVID-19 and analyzed the data concerning skin problems. They found a prevalence of 1.0 percent of patients experienced them. When looking at case reports, out of 54 patients, 48 (88.8 percent) showed skin manifestations of the virus. Rash and hives were the most common effects reported.
More specifically, the researchers noted that patients may experience red spots on the hands, blisters on the trunk, itchy hives, red patches of itchy skin, and swollen, itchy blisters. The researchers are still unsure whether these symptoms are directly related to the virus or if they are complications of the infection.
Also in 2020, researchers reported on data from 990 cases from 39 countries of COVID-19 patients with skin symptoms. The patients experienced a broad spectrum of problems lasting for different lengths of time, including hives, COVID toes, and scaly papules and plaques.
The symptoms varied depending on how severe the infection was. The papules and plaques were more common in patients who were hospitalized for the infection—suggesting inflammation was at work—while those with COVID toes were more likely to have experienced a mild form of the disease.
In a 2021 review, researchers looked at 87 studies, which included data on 895 patients with skin lesions associated with COVID-19. The most common symptom was a skin rash, though patients also experienced hives and other skin problems. The lesions seemed to occur more frequently in the first four weeks from the onset of the virus, though some patients experienced them later.
Covid Skin Sensitivity: COVID Toes
In a more recent 2022 review, researchers looked at data from 128 studies, which included nearly 5,000 cases of what’s called “chilblain-like lesions (CLL), or what is commonly known as COVID toes.
Chilblains is a condition that causes inflamed swollen patches and blistering on the hands and feet. It’s caused by exposure to damp air that is cold but not freezing. Symptoms include swelling, pain or stinging, changes in skin color, sores or blistering, and small itchy areas on the skin.
Scientists have noticed the same type of symptom showing up in some people who had the COVID-19 infection, but they had no exposure to cold, damp air. In the 2022 review, they found that this symptom most commonly affected patients with a mean age of 25 years and that women were slightly more likely to be affected.
Though this side effect is called COVID toes, it can also sometimes affect the fingers as well. Fortunately, treatment typically resolved the problem in about 16-17 days. The most commonly reported treatments were topical steroids, oral pain relievers, warming of the skin, topical antimicrobials, oral antihistamines, and other medications.
It’s still unclear whether this symptom is directly related to the illness because studies show that those who have it don’t always test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. We need more studies to understand it better.
What Does a COVID Rash Look Like?
If you were diagnosed with COVID-19—and especially if you had a difficult time with the virus (you were hospitalized, for example)—you may have noticed skin problems that went along with it. If you’re still suffering from rashes, redness, and itchiness for which you have no other explanation, you may be suffering from skin symptoms of long COVID.
Someone with a COVID rash may have symptoms like the following:

Itchy, raised bumps
Small blisters that resemble chickenpox
Blotchy areas of discoloration
Itchy or sore skin
Tiny red, purple, or darker brown spots

From what we know so far, it seems that these symptoms usually resolve within a few weeks. For some, however, a COVID rash can last many months.

Why Would COVID Cause Skin Symptoms?
Scientists are still learning about the various ways that the virus affects the human body. What seems clear so far is that some skin conditions are likely related to the inflammation that goes on when the immune system is trying to fend off the disease. Inflammation inside the body can easily translate to inflammation in the skin, resulting in redness, swelling, rashes, and hives. Scientists believe that inflammation is the source of COVID toes as well.
Some of the other symptoms—such as bruise-like eruptions—seem to be caused by blood clots, which are also a side effect of COVID-19 in some people. And as antibodies fight the virus, they can also damage blood vessel walls, which can cause skin rashes.
Why Do Some Skin Symptoms Last So Long?
Scientists are still trying to figure out all the puzzles of long-COVID. So far, they just don’t know why some people suffer these types of symptoms for much longer than others. Some suspect that the virus triggers some other process in the body that continues to cause symptoms. It seems less likely that the immune system is still fighting the virus many months later.
COVID Skin Sensitivity: How to Help Your Skin Feel Better
It’s always best to talk to your doctor and/or dermatologist about any skin symptoms you may be experiencing. They may have some medications that can help.
Meanwhile, you’ll want to try to tame any inflammation the skin may be experiencing while helping to heal the outer barrier, which is most likely damaged.
The best way to do that is:

Cut back on the products you’re using. Adopt a minimal routine consisting of a gentle cleanser, toner, and moisturizer, and give your skin a break from harsher treatments containing acids and retinol.
Avoid alcohol toners. We recommend our Rescue + Relief Spray as it helps tame inflammation while cooling a hot rash. Like all CV Skinlabs products, it contains the exclusive Tri-Rescue Complex, a potent blend of anti-inflammatory ingredients that calm and help repair inflammatory skin conditions.
Choose a nourishing moisturizer. Just any moisturizer will not do. You need one that will help calm inflammation and encourage healing and repair. We recommend our Calming Moisture and Body Repair Lotion. They also have the anti-inflammatory Tri-Rescue Complex, plus natural shea butter, soothing extracts, healing vitamin E, and aloe to help calm and soothe troubled skin.

Have you experienced COVID skin sensitivity? How did you manage it?
Featured image by Freepik.

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