COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
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Personal Grooming Hazards: What You Should Know

A woman following safe personal grooming at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With much of the country concerned about COVID-19, visits to hair stylists and manicurists have dramatically dropped. The reason: People are taking hygiene and beauty needs into their own hands.

At-home grooming has a slew of perks: It's inexpensive, convenient and you don't have to wait for an appointment. Plus, staying home as much as possible reduces your risk of potential exposure to COVID-19. But whether you're removing earwax or giving yourself a manicure, taking care of your own hygiene and vanity needs at home isn't foolproof. 


"We're seeing people develop infections from home manicures gone wrong, and they delay care when running into trouble with home grooming."


Yalda Azarmehr, MD, Cedars-Sinai General Internal Medicine

Yalda Azarmehr, MD

"We're seeing people develop infections from home manicures gone wrong, and they delay care when running into trouble with home grooming," says Dr. Yalda Azarmehr, an internal medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai



Home care gone wrong

Some hygiene and beauty services are more hazardous than others. Polishing your nails is lower risk than cutting your cuticles, for example. So which can't-skip home hygiene tasks give Dr. Azarmehr pause? Here are her top three: 

  • Nail care: The skin around our nails is fragile. Any slip with a tool and you could experience a cut, infection or even an abscess (a swollen lump of pus, usually caused by a bacterial infection). "An abscess needs to be drained in the office by a healthcare professional," Dr. Azarmher says. Her advice: "Don't risk it. You can clean and cut your nails, but you should avoid cutting the cuticles and skin around the nail."
  • Earwax removal: While it may be tempting to fish out unwieldy earwax, it's best to let a professional handle earwax removal. "Some over-the-counter remedies, including hydrogen peroxide drops, can make the ear wax mushy so it sticks to the ear canal even more," Dr. Azarmehr says. Cotton swabs can be equally problematic. If you push too hard, or swab for too long, you can damage the eardrum.
  • Tartar removal: In addition to causing nicks and cuts in the gumline, you might also introduce infection by using inappropriate and unsterilized tools. Getting rid of tartar is best left in the hands of a professional. "Dental office personnel take every precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19," Dr. Azarmehr said.


Home grooming savvy

Unfortunately, home care can go wrong relatively quickly. Even "harmless" products such as hair dye can cause major complications if you're allergic to them. So, before you hit the bathroom with a tube of hair dye, or even a cotton swab, make sure to take these precautions:

  • Follow instructions: If you are using an over-the-counter remedy for ear wax, or a simple drug store hair dye, make sure to follow every single step in the instructions. Use too much product, or misuse it altogether, and your body parts may suffer the consequences. 
  • Do a spot test: Test a new product on a small patch of skin before you apply it as directed. "Apply the product to a small area on the inner-upper arm or on the inner thigh and wait 24 hours before using the product as intended," Dr. Azarmehr suggests.
  • Ask for help: If you're trying to cut your own hair, or do your own manicure, ask a family member to help so you can better avoid missteps. 

If you run into trouble with home care, don't hesitate to reach out to your primary care provider. "We can manage a lot of issues with a simple video visit," Dr. Azarmehr says. "The most important thing is not to delay care."