Experts weigh in on if—and how—you should alter your beauty routine when you're sick with a cold, the flu, or worse.

By Melanie Rud
April 06, 2020
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Relaxed young woman wearing facial mask at home while sick
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When you're not feeling well you likely change your clothes (hello, comfy college sweatpants), your diet (mom's chicken soup for the win), and exercise routine (relaxed stretching classes instead of intense cardio). But what about changing up your beauty routine?

Turns out, there are certain important things to alter when you're under the weather. Ahead, experts explain exactly what do if you're fighting a common cold, the flu, a stomach bug, or (yikes) the coronavirus. (See: Is Is a Cold, the Flu, or Allergies?)

Basic Beauty Rules for When You're Sick

  • Don't use any brushes, makeup, or skin-care products with applicators that apply directly to your mouth or eyes. If you need to use them, apply with a cotton swap, spoolie, or another disposable tool. No double-dipping.
  • Don't dip your hands or fingers into any jar-like products; opt for pumps or use a tool to scoop some product out.
  • If you think you may have contaminated any products, toss them once you're healthy.
  • Stick to mild, fragrance-free cleansers and moisturizers. Steer clear of any harsh or drying products.
  • Keep your nails short, as they can harbor bacteria underneath.

The Common Cold

If it's just the sniffles, you're probably not totally homebound and, as such, are probably still wearing makeup. That's fine, but ditch the brushes, which can both hold onto and transfer germs.

Try using disposable cotton swabs to apply makeup instead, suggests Jen Caudle, D.O., a board-certified family physician practicing in New Jersey. For products that are going directly near your eyes and/or mouth—think mascara, lipstick, eyeliner—try either using disposable applicators, like these spoolies ($7, for mascara or decanting a small amount into a separate container. For example, cut off a bit of lipstick and keep it in a small container (plastic pill boxes are good for this), then apply it with a cotton swab. But no double-dipping, regardless of what product it is or what you're using to apply it. And if you're not following these recommendations, be sure to toss any products you used around your mouth or eyes once you're healthy.

Similarly, you'll also want to avoid transferring germs into your products with your fingers. "Avoid using products housed in pots or jars that require you to dip your fingers into them," advises Dr. Caudle. Again, cotton swabs can come up big in this case, and/or opt for skin care that comes in pump bottles. Taking both of these precautions can minimize the risk of you re-infecting yourself with germs once you're finally healthy.

There's been a lot in the news lately about wearing contacts while you're sick; Dr. Caudle says it's okay to do so, as long as they're the daily disposable kind and you wash your hands thoroughly before and after putting them in and taking them out. Otherwise, the best move is to switch to glasses until your cold passes, she says.

The Flu

When you've been hit with the flu, getting made up probably isn't a top priority. Still, you should give a little bit of thought to your skin-care routine, particularly when it comes to the cleanser and moisturizer you're using. Step one: Make sure you're using a mild, fragrance-free face wash, suggests Houston dermatologist Elizabeth Mullans, M.D. One to try: Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser (Buy It, $6; This ensures it won't further dry out or irritate your skin. FYI, your skin can easily become dehydrated when you're sick, she says.

On that note, moisturizing, especially around your nose is super important. You want to maintain proper hydration, especially around the nostrils where many people irritate and dry out their skin by constantly sneezing or blowing their nose, explains Gretchen Frieling, M.D., a dermatopathologist in the Boston area. Again, a mild and fragrance-formula is best, and make sure it doesn't contain a more potent ingredient like retinol that can further irritate the skin, she adds. Try: CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM ($12;

You may also want to consider trimming your nails. Dr. Caudle says long nails are more likely to hold onto bacteria than shorter nails (germs can get stuck underneath), so sport a shorter mani until you're healthy again.

Showering might also take a backseat when you're hit with the flu, and that's okay. The most important thing is to listen to your body, so if you don't feel up to it one day, it's fine to skip it, says Dr. Caudle. Still, if you do have the strength, a warm shower can be a good move. The steam can be beneficial in alleviating mucous and cough, she adds. Not to mention that thoroughly washing your skin and hair can help clean off lingering germs.

A Stomach Bug

"When you have a stomach bug, you can easily become dehydrated, says Dr. Caudle, and that applies to both your body and your skin. Drinking plenty of fluids can help both, and be sure to apply moisturizer at last once daily.

Like with the flu, though, make sure that moisturizer is mild and fragrance-free. "You want to limit the fumes you expose yourself to as they can make nausea worse," cautions Dr. Frieling. That also means to avoid coloring your hair, especially if it's a product that contains ammonia, and possibly even steer clear of the nail salon, where smells can also be intense.


Let's be real, if you have COVID-19, your beauty routine should be the least of your worries. Not to mention, limiting the time you spend in the bathroom to only the basic hygiene necessities can go a long way in minimizing the spread of the virus within your household, says Dr. Frieling. Though in the event you are still using any skin-care or makeup products, follow the same guidelines as suggested for the cold and flu scenarios.

The one product you should be using? Hand cream. While extra handwashing is paramount, it can leave your skin dry and chapped. And if it gets so bad that you have actual cracking and fissures in your skin, those can become secondarily infected with bacteria, cautions Dr. Mullans. In that case, along with using hydrating hand cream, applying a thick ointment, such as Lanolips The Original 101 Ointment ($17;, to create a protective barrier can be helpful.


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