The Skin Care Rules to Live by When You’re Sick

Sometimes the world just likes to kick you when you’re down.

Take, for example, when you’re already struggling with feeling shitty from a cold or flu. It seems that then, suddenly, your skin joins in by freaking out too. What gives?

When we’re sick, there’s a lot going on: our immune system is busy dealing with more important things than acne, we’re dehydrated, and tend to let our routine slip by the wayside to get in some extra sleep. Maybe you’ve had to spend some time in hospital or focusing on other things. Unfortunately, the change in routine and bodily functions that come with illness is a recipe for looking worse than usual in the skin department.

Scaly, red patches around your nose and crepey, dehydrated forehead lines remind you just how bad you’re feeling. But you’re used all your available time off and you need to drag your butt back into work tomorrow.

Believe it or not, there are some actionable ways you can minimise how much of a toll being sick takes on your skin, and help yourself look and feel a little better just in time. These tips are the perfect things to do to pull your skin out of a funk once you’ve been sick for a while, so you can get back to looking yourself again ASAP. Or, use them as a preventative if you feel yourself coming down with something as we speak.

Here’s the easy, simple and timeless tips for how to best treat your skin on a sick day (or week):

First: listen to your skin

First and foremost, pay attention to what your skin needs. If it’s feeling and looking fine, and you’re not too sick, try to keep your routine normal wherever possible! Don’t throw your products out and frantically try to improve what’s not broken. It’s actually often the changes we make to our routines that cause our skin to go downhill more than the illness itself.

But if your skin is screaming out and looking worse for wear no matter what you do, or you can’t manage to keep up the usual standard of care because you’re feeling too unwell, read on…

Cleanse while in bed: keep face wipes/micellar water on hand

When you’re really feeling crummy, the last thing you want to do is get up and traipse to the bathroom to rinse your face. I get it. But totally forgoing cleansing is a bad idea. It’s important to be consistent – so stay fresh and clean by instead keeping a no-rinse product like a packet of face wipes or micellar water and cotton pads by your bed. For everyday, I’d usually say they’re a little wasteful and suggest that you should go rinse them off in the sink to remove any residue, but it’ll do in a pinch. They’ll remove stale sweat and debris without drying – or tiring – you out. When you eventually do go and shower, take that opportunity to use your normal face wash and return to normalcy.

Use the softest tissues you can find

Ah, the familiar burn of raw skin against tissues. The inner debate of whether to just keep sniffing or to give in and blow your nose (and shed tears doing it). It’s probably the worst part about being sick.

From the get go, don’t be lazy by using toilet paper or something equally scratchy (like, god forbid, your sleeve) as a replacement for tissues. I am totally guilty of this. It’ll seem fine for the first day, but come morning your face will be so raw you’ll be flaking for weeks. Super soft tissues are designed not to irritate your delicate nostrils so they stay calm and flake-free. Use them gently and as often as you need to keep things dry and comfortable.

Moisturise often and protect at-risk spots specifically

When we’re ill, we lose fluids from not eating or drinking enough, sweating, and even the unglamorous stuff like vomiting. Our skin isn’t vital to life so as our bodies start to dehydrate, fluids are directed to where they’re needed and the skin is one of the first places to take the hit. While you’re drinking your fluids to keep hydrated from the inside, you need to hydrate extra from the outside too.

Layer your hydrating and protective products and apply often throughout the day. Moisturisers with humectants and emollients do great at times like these. Really you can’t go overboard here, so feel free to amp it up and apply more than usual.

Note: You might notice that if you wet the area around your nose with anything after a few days of having a bad cold, it stings. It’s counter-intuitive, but water – an incredible solvent – is actually the reason why your nose feels so dry. The repetitive dampness from a running nose paired with a dry tissue every few minutes repetitively hydrates and dries out the skin, removing surface oils and the protective layer that stops our nerves feeling raw.

To avoid the burn, skip moisturiser on the nostrils and instead seal your skin in with an oil-based occlusive like a carrier oil, shea butter, lanolin or Vaseline (one of my holy grail secret skin products). This will act as a barrier between you and your tissues and any water (or other bodily fluids), keeping your nose hydrated and sting-free.

Try a humidifier to prevent a cracked and dry nose and lips

All those tissues and space heaters are bound to suck the moisture out of your skin. For those times when you’re really too sick to do anything resembling skin care routine, a humidifier will do the moisturising for you! When the air is humid, it doesn’t to try draw precious moisture from your skin so much, leaving you to sleep without worry of dryness in the morning. And while you breathe, you’ll feel relief from the usual stuffy nose and cotton-mouth feeling you get from being all dried out.

The simpler your routine and products, the better

While you’re pretty unwell, stay away from overdoing it with scrubs, acids and masks. While it’s tempting to seek a helping hand when you’re looking less than glowy, you’ll just irritate your skin more than the tissues and runny nose already has. Plus, who wants to feel overwhelmed standing at the bathroom sink when they could just be in bed instead?! And definitely don’t try anything new – there’s nothing that could make a sick day worse than an allergic reaction to boot. Stick to a basic cleansing and hydrating routine until you’re back on your feet.

Treat your skin to a boost at the end of your sickness

Don’t worry – you won’t be in product lockdown forever. When you’re finally getting back to your normal self, hop right back on your skin care game with a hydrating mask and some actives to perk your skin back up. The more normal (and even extra) you can make your routine, the faster you’ll be back to looking like yourself! I really recommend sheet masks to pump up the hydration, and actives like AHAs that will resurface all the clogged up and dry skin from the week and get you back to square one.


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  1. […] really basic tasks can seem hard, but if you start a routine things get easier over time. Even if you make your routine one you can do from bed while feeling crappy, it’s a landmark in your day that anchors you to […]

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