Things that are not true about COVID-19 and your skin

March 29, 2020 / Duncan Fisher
9 myths and an urban legend

Nothing generates rumors faster than a pandemic does.

In a way, that’s understandable. Diseases are frightening, and they’re doubly so when they’re new, and little is known about them. It’s very natural for people to reach out for information about what to do, and to want to try almost anything to stay safe.

But the fact is, most of the time, medical rumors during pandemics are untrue. If people act on them, moreover, they can sometimes make things worse. Rumors aren’t just untrue as a rule – they’re sometimes also dangerous.

At Snapmed we’re tracking the corona rumors that relate to your skin. There are quite a few out there, and dermatologists are concerned that people know the truth about them.

Here’s the latest crop, and what you should know instead.

A rash means you have coronavirus.

It's beginning to look as though there can be some skin involvement in COVID-19 infection, as there can also be in other viral syndromes. Our next post will cover some breaking news on this. But a rash by itself is not a reliable diagnostic of coronavirus, or any other viral infection.

A rash means you’ll get coronavirus.

It may seem reasonable to think that people with certain skin conditions are susceptible to transdermal infection. It’s not an outlandish idea, and indeed there is medical literature on possible microbial complications in atopic dermatitis, at least. But this is a long way from saying that skin with rashes is susceptible to viral infection that comes through the skin. These articles are talking about systemic infections that arrived the usual way, which is not through the skin. Transdermal infection, even with a skin rash, is nigh impossible, and it’s certainly never been described with COVID-19.

You can kill coronavirus with a hot hand-dryer.

Coronaviruses generally don’t do well in high temperatures. Logic would say that viral load on the skin should drop after a good blast of heat. It doesn’t.

Ultraviolet lamps kill the virus on your skin.

Ultraviolet light may seem potent somehow, adaptable for medical use, possibly because we associate light at some UV wavelengths with skin cancer. Maybe it seems powerful and sciency, and that’s the subliminal reason for the mythology that UV lamps destroy coronavirus on the skin. For that is the myth you hear. But UV lights don’t do that. They can’t.

Thermal scanners spot the virus on your skin.

Thermal scanners detect heat, or more accurately, infrared radiation that’s a function of heat. They detect fevers, or that’s the idea, but not viruses.

Antibiotic cream kills the virus on your skin.

Antibiotics don’t work on viruses. They work on bacteria. Bacteria are living organisms. (‘Anti’ means ‘against,’ in Greek, and ‘bios’ means ‘life’.) Viruses aren’t actually alive. They’re molecular robots. They have to be destroyed, distinct from killed. Antibiotics don’t do that.

Coconut oil kills the virus on your skin.

There is evidence that coconut oil has some antibacterial properties, notably against Staphylococcus and E. coli. But there’s no evidence that it has any antiviral capability at all.

Sesame seed oil ‘blocks’ the virus on your skin.

Sesame oil may have some use as an antioxidant and an antiflammatory agent. And it may also be antibacterial in the way that coconut oil is. But there’s no evidence that it has any antiviral capability either.

Wearing a beard makes you more likely to develop an infection.

The Centers for Disease Control run an occasional graphic about beards. Its point is that beards may make a good seal difficult around respiratory safety equipment. Nowhere in medical literature is there a warning about beards as coronavirus-traps, or anything of the sort.

Dark skinned people are naturally protected from coronavirus.

There is a strange and basically incoherent meme going around, to the effect that people with lots of melanin in their skin, or with ‘African blood,’ somehow resist COVID-19 infection. World Health Organisation tracking data do not show this. It’s only a meme.

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