By Wendy Ouriel
Although we do not know much about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), we do know that it spreads primarily through contaminated surfaces, and by coming into close contact with an infected person.
What we have been told is to keep to ourselves, to not touch contaminated surfaces and to wash our hands.
What we haven't been told is how important it is to keep the one barrier that separates your muscle, blood and organs from an infected environment strong. That barrier is your skin, and a lot of "precautionary" measures to prevent infection, actually make you more susceptible to it.
One concern I have is that people are buying massive amounts of isopropyl/rubbing alcohol. And from what I have read, people are using it to make their own hand sanitizer.
This sort of thing will make you more susceptible to infection.
Putting pure rubbing alcohol on your skin tears down your skin's outer protective barrier. Rinsing your skin in alcohol will lead to immediate negative consequences. This includes drying the skin out to such an extreme extent that the skin cracks open, leading to lesions and a direct route for viruses to enter into the body. It also includes changing the pH of your skin, which allows bacteria and other pathogens to infect your skin.
Dry skin can lead to brittleness, open wounds and an entryway for pathogens to enter into the bloodstream.
When I was a graduate student I used to use pure isopropyl alcohol for tissue dehydration, and even with gloves it still got onto my hands. The alcohol quickly broke my skin leaving it cracked, brittle and bleeding. And this was often just after a couple of exposures. I remember during this time I got sick more often than normal, and it is no surprise.
The constant use of hand sanitizer is also a concern because hand sanitizer is not and should not be used in lieu of washing your hands with soap and water. Hand sanitizer breaks your skin down too because of its alcohol content, and has been shown to not be as effective as soap and water. If you cannot get to a sink to wash your hands, then hand sanitizer is OK, but you should wash your hands as soon as you can get to a sink and do not use it as a replacement for soap and water.
During the Norovirus 2006 outbreak, it was noted, in hospitals, that those who used alcohol-based hand sanitizers had a significantly higher rate of infection than those who used soap and water.
Further studies have found that alcohol-based hand sanitizers are ineffective at killing viruses and other pathogens on infected hands.
Skin care is critical during the Coronavirus Outbreak
Keeping your skin healthy goes beyond your hands, you need to keep the skin on your face healthy too.
Be sure to use skin care that maintains or rebuilds your skin's protective barrier, structural integrity, and healthy microbiome. The skin needs to be acidic to do all of the above, and that means using acidic skin care. This also means avoiding all alkaline products such as foaming cleansers. Foaming cleansers harm skin in two major ways: they dry skin out and raise its pH. The result is damaged skin that is susceptible to disease and infection.
Skin care to use during this time include:
Acidic exfoliants- to maintain a healthy biome and keep skin acidic
Anti-inflammatory serums - To keep skin strong, prevent the breaking down of skin due to inflammation
Moisture-locking serums- Oil-based serums to lock in hydration
Oil-based cleansers- To prevent the breaking down of skin, and to maintain skin's structural integrity.
Skin care to avoid
Essential oils/ fragrance - Essential oils are cytotoxic to the skin. In addition to having the ability to respiratory failure when inhaled (especially with diffusers), essential oils weaken the skin over time, leading to open wounds, acne, dermatitis and other skin disease. They also raise the skin's pH and cause increased susceptibility to infection.
Alcohol-containing skin care
Scrubs/ polishes / phyisical exfoliants- All of these are OK for the body, such as the legs and torso, but the skin on the face, neck and decollete is thin and delicate. When scrubs are used on the face and surrounding skin, this leads to microlacerations which tear the skin down, cause inflammation and leads to disease such as acne. Acne causes small openings on the skin that lead to the bloodstream. So when you use skin care that causes acne, you are making yourself vulnerable to infection.
Skin Care without preservatives- A lot of natural skin care brands forgo using preservatives, or proper preservatives because their formulators don't have any scientific education or literacy. This means that bacteria, mold and potentially viruses are breeding or can breed in your skin care. When you put that skin care on your face, guess where the new breeding ground is? And an infected face is vulnerable to new infections too.
Your body needs armor during a viral outbreak, and your skin is that armor. Keep it strong and healthy.
Blaney, D. D., Daly, E. R., Kirkland, K. B., Tongren, J. E., Kelso, P. T., & Talbot, E. A. (2011). Use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers as a risk factor for norovirus outbreaks in long-term care facilities in northern New England: December 2006 to March 2007. American journal of infection control, 39(4), 296-301.
Centers for Disease Control https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/why-handwashing.html
Foddai, A. C., Grant, I. R., & Dean, M. (2016). Efficacy of instant hand sanitizers against foodborne pathogens compared with hand washing with soap and water in food preparation settings: A systematic review. Journal of food protection, 79(6), 1040-1054.
Liu, P., Yuen, Y., Hsiao, H. M., Jaykus, L. A., & Moe, C. (2010). Effectiveness of liquid soap and hand sanitizer against Norwalk virus on contaminated hands. Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 76(2), 394-399.