With closure of fitness centers, movie theatres, concert venues, malls, bowling allies, and indoor dining establishments throughout the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a shift toward outdoor activities with increased sun exposure.1 Outdoor activities promote physical and emotional well-being and can be a creative avenue to implement social distancing practices.2 However, care must be taken to avoid chronic exposure to ultraviolet radiation, which is responsible for 90 percent of skin cancers in the US.3 As such, sun protective strategies are an important priority for reducing the risk of developing skin cancer.

Tools Used and Technique

To address this increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation during the pandemic, we created a patient handout, referencing information from the American Academy of Dermatology website. You can download the PDF of the handout here.

Practice Implementation

This educational handout, summarizing sun protective strategies, is succinct and comprehensible to the public. It addresses general sun safety tips, sun protective clothing, sunscreen selection and application, sun protection in young children, and sunburn management. Clinicians can share this resource with patients during clinic visits or online via their websites. Informing and encouraging patients to follow these simple measures will enable them to engage in outdoor social distancing activities without increasing their risk of skin cancer.

Skin Safety During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Use the following tips to protect yourself from skin cancer during the pandemic.

Figure 1. Diagram showing the necessary ingredients for skin protection and skin cancer prevention.

General Tips1

  • Seek shade to avoid direct sun exposure when possible
  • Avoid outdoor activities between 10 am to 2 pm when the sun’s rays are most intense
  • Take extra care whenever near water, snow, and sand as these mediums reflect the sunlight and increase risk of sunburn

Sun Protective Clothing1

  • Wear light-weight, long-sleeved shirts and pants to minimize exposed skin
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your scalp and face

Choosing a Sunscreen1

  • Choose broad-spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB) and water-resistant sunscreen
  • Look for a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher
  • Choose either physical sunscreen, also known as sunblock, or chemical sunscreen (further explained in the diagram below)
  • Use whichever type is best for you (lotion, cream, gel, ointment, wax stick, spray)
  • Consider that the safety and usefulness of sunscreen sprays is uncertain
  • Keep sunscreen sprays away from heat/flames
  • Dispose of sunscreen if color or consistency has changed, as it is likely expired
  • Use a lip balm with SPF 30 or higher to protect your lips

Figure 2. Venn diagram highlighting the differences between physical and chemical sunscreen. The mechanism of each sunscreen type is illustrated at the bottom of the Venn diagram.

Applying Sunscreen1

  • Use sunscreen anytime outside
  • Apply to dry skin 15 minutes before sun exposure
  • Reapply every 2 hours OR after water exposure/sweating
  • Apply to all areas of the body not covered by clothing
  • Use about 1 fluid ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen over entire body for adults and less for children
  • If using sunscreen spray, avoid breathing it in and do not spray it directly on the face

Sun Protection in Young Children1

  • Avoid sunscreen use in children under 6 months of age
  • Protect children under 6 months of age from the sun with clothing and shade
  • Choose a physical sunscreen for young children who are at least 6 months of age

Treating Sunburn2

  • Attend to the sunburn immediately and avoid further sun-exposure
  • Take a cool bath/shower and pat the skin dry. Apply moisturizer while the skin is slightly wet. Choose a moisturizer that has aloe vera or soy.
  • Apply over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever (unless your doctor has informed you not to do so)
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water
  • Avoid touching/rupturing blisters

—Developed by Amylee Martin, BS, Jeffrey Liu, BS, Akshitha Thatiparthi, BS, and Jashin J. Wu, MD
Reprinted from Practical Dermatology®

1. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2020;8(7):2152-2155.

2. Int J Mol Sci. 2013;14(6):12222-12248.

1. Courtemanche C, Garuccio J, Le A, Pinkston J, Yelowitz A. Strong Social Distancing Measures In The United States Reduced The COVID-19 Growth Rate. Health Aff (Millwood). 2020;39(7):1237-1246.

2. Nyenhuis SM, Greiwe J, Zeiger JS, Nanda A, Cooke A. Exercise and Fitness in the Age of Social Distancing During the COVID-19 Pandemic. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2020;8(7):2152-2155.

3. D’Orazio J, Jarrett S, Amaro-Ortiz A, Scott T. UV radiation and the skin. Int J Mol Sci. 2013;14(6):12222-12248.

4. Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/sunscreen-patients/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed August 1, 2020.

5. How to treat sunburn. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/injured-skin/burns/treat-sunburn. Accessed August 1, 2020.