How to Safely Care For Your Skin During and After Monkeypox

Although COVID-29 should still be on all our radars, monkeypox has taken over headlines as the newest virus to stay informed about. Monkeypox is a contagious, human-to-human and animal-to-human transmitted disease that comes from the same family of viruses as the variola virus (the virus that causes smallpox.) Along with flu-like symptoms such as a fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion, the virus also causes a rash similar to smallpox

That said, it's the disease's effect on the skin that leaves us with a lot of questions. We spoke to experts to get all the information you need to know about monkeypox's effect on the skin, from the start of the outbreak to after it's completely healed.  

How can you tell if your rash is monkeypox?

It can be scary to wonder if any skin blemish you develop could actually be monkeypox. There has been some shared confusion, especially on social media, about the difference between monkeypox lesions and other skin outbreaks such as hives, bug bites, pimples, or other rashes. That said, there are actually a couple things that distinguish a monkeypox lesion from the rest.

The other is the change that the monkeypox lesions go through from start to finish: "bug bites, hives, and pimples don't go through multiple stages of development like the smallpox lesions," says Morgana Colombo, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Reston, Virginia.

How do you take care of a monkeypox rash?

When a potential outbreak pops up on the skin, your immediate reaction might be to try and treat it, but Dr. Colombo says it's important to fight that urge before you're sure what's causing it. "You should not attempt to care for the lesions at home without being seen by a physician and getting tested first,” she explains.

Once you visit a physician and they confirm a diagnosis of monkeypox, you may be prescribed an oral antiviral medication such as tecovirimat (TPOXX), which Dr. Colombo says significantly improves the flu-like symptoms within 24 to 48 hours if your case is more severe. This can also treat the pain that comes with the lesions, but it will not necessarily heal them. 

While the lesions are healing, Dr. Colombo recommends letting them breathe. But if you're in public to visit your doctor or go to the hospital, it's key to keep the lesions completely covered using gauze or bandages to limit spread.

Dr. Colombo notes that the skin may be more sensitive during the outbreak, so she recommends avoiding irritating products with harsh ingredients such as chemical exfoliants.  Instead, she recommends using a gentle cleanser and moisturizer to help ease any discomfort. The other important thing to keep in mind during your quarantine is to not pick at the lesions, no matter how hard this may be, especially during the scabbing part of the process. "Try not to pick at lesions because that can lead to worse scars, and avoid contact with others until all lesions have crusted over," she explains.

Can monkeypox lesions affect the skin long-term?

If you do pick at the lesions, you may experience dark spots or scarring after the rash has completely healed. Dr. Colombo says these should fade on their own after six months, but if they don't, you can visit your dermatologists to address this concern.