If You Get Monkeypox, Here's How to Take Care Of Your Skin and Minimize Scarring

Discover these dermatologist-recommended tips.

Monkeypox Skincare
Photo: Getty Images

On top of everything else going on, monkeypox is now a thing in the U.S. [Editor's note: Monkeypox has been an endemic in Central and West Africa for years, and it's a tremendous shame that the world is only paying attention to the virus now, but anyways...].

While we can't do much about its presence, what we can do is equip ourselves with the knowledge to take care of our skin and minimize scarring in the event you contract the virus.

"The most important thing to avoid doing is picking or squeezing the skin lesions," says Dr. Jennifer David of Dermatology Partners Bensalem PA, and founder of Skin & Scripts Virtual Dermatology. "First, because the virus can be spread through contact with the fluid inside the lesions and second because they have an increased risk of scarring if you pick at them."

Here, we spoke to two board-certified dermatologists to find out everything you need to know about skincare, as well as scar prevention and treatment if you contract monkeypox.

What Is Monkeypox?

According to the CDC, monkeypox is a disease caused by the monkeypox virus — one that's similar to smallpox. And while the physical manifestation of the ailment may be unpleasant, luckily it's rarely ever fatal.

In terms of symptoms, most tend to be similar to those of smallpox, but are usually milder.

"Monkeypox will start with systemic symptoms such as fever, chills, malaise, headache, joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes," explains Dr. David. "These symptoms will last for one to two days before the rash develops."

How to Prevent Monkeypox

Thankfully, the smallpox vaccine is effective in preventing the monkeypox virus — the only problem is that it's mainly reserved for those who meet certain criteria in most areas. However, there are ways to minimize exposure to the virus.

According to board-certified dermatologist and founder of SkinClusive Dermatology Dr. Adeline Kikam, DO, MS, FAAD, your best bet is to avoid the following:

  • Prolonged direct or skin-to-skin contact of an infected person. "The lesions of monkey pox are highly contagious," she notes.
  • Sustained exposure to respiratory droplets, especially face-to-face contact.
  • Sharing personal items such as bedding, towels, utensils, and clothing.

"No kissing, touching, hugging, or sexual contact with anyone infected with monkeypox," she adds. "And wash hands regularly with soap and water for at least 30 seconds, or use hand sanitizer."

What Does Monkeypox Look Like?

Uh... we're going to warn you now that it's not pleasant. So, if you know you're going to be easily bothered by the images ahead, now's the time to either close this tab or close your eyes as your scroll down.

OK, for those of you that are still with us, you ready?

Monkeypox Skincare
Getty Images

Depending on your skin tone and which stage the lesions are at, the bumps and subsequent scabs will have a different look.

"Many people will first develop a blister in their mouth followed by a punch of flat pink or tan lesions on their face, body, and arms," explains Dr. David. "In one to two days these flat lesions will fill with clear liquid and form blisters and then the fluid will turn white pus-filled bumps. After a week, the pus bumps will scab over and eventually fall off and heal over."

Monkeypox Skincare
Getty Images

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How Do I Take Care of My Skin If I Get Monkeypox?

Being soft, patient, and gentle is the key. So as you bathe or apply lotion to your body, it's important to remember that the lesions are very contagious — so you'll want to avoid friction at all costs.

"Washing with fragrance-free Dove body wash and washing clothes with Arm and Hammer Sensitive Skin detergent are great starts," explains Dr. David. "Soothing topical products include petrolatum products, like Aquaphor, Vaniply Ointment, or Vaseline. And you should make sure to apply hydrating humectants with ceramides, aloe, and/or hyaluronic acid as ingredients. Oatmeal baths are also very soothing. Aveeno makes convenient oatmeal bath packets you can add to a full tub of warm water."

Dr. Kikam agrees that warm baths are best. She also suggests taking an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen if the bumps are painful or tender.

"Use a q-tip to apply over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream twice daily to help with inflammation," she adds.

Also, while it may be tempting for some, do not pop or pick at the lesions as this will contribute to scarring. However, if one bursts on its own, make sure to treat it right away.

"Wipe off any puss with a clean wet towel or tissue very gently," Dr. Kikam suggests. "If the sore is open and isolated, you can put a bandage over to avoid picking and exposure to infection."

Will Monkeypox Lesions Scar — and How Do I Prevent This?

There is definitely the risk of scarring, but thankfully there are also ways to prevent it.

First off, you want to make sure you avoid exfoliation as well as popping, picking, or squeezing any active lesions. This can contribute to inflammation, which then leads to scars.

"The most notable type of scaring associated with monkeypox is atrophic scarring where you have indentations in the skin post monkeypox lesions," explains Dr. Kikam "It's the result of inflammation that causes focally reduced collagen production. Atrophic scars may improve with time in some people depending on the extent and size of the defect, but it'll be a large and permanent scar without dermatologic intervention."

However, Dr. Davis adds that hypertrophic or keloidal scars can occur and are most common among people of color.

What's the Best Way to Treat the Appearance of Monkeypox Scars?

According to Dr. Kikam, there are a plethora of ways to treat scarring from monkeypox. But it's best to speak to a dermatologist — who can help you customize a treatment plan — before applying anything to the skin or undergoing any at-home or in-office treatments.

"Chemical peels, microdermabrasion, microneedling, laser resurfacing, and even dermal fillers for atrophic scars [can be effective]," she notes. "However, as part of one's routine, sunscreen, the use of anti-discoloration products to target hyperpigmentation, and retinol to stimulate collagen product is advisable."

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