Even During a Pandemic, It’s Important to Protect Your Skin

By Steve Blanchard - May 04, 2020

Typically during the month of May, students would be preparing for a summer at the beach and parents would be putting the final touches on the big family vacation. But 2020 has proven to be anything but typical.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still placed squarely upon us, many people have to find different ways to stay entertained and healthy while maintaining social distancing.

But while socializing rules may have changed, the rules to protect yourself from ultraviolet (UV) exposure have not.

“Now more than ever, we look forward to when we can get out to the beach and bask in the sunshine, but with or without viruses the sun is not always our friend,” said Dr. Vernon Sondak, chair of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Department of Cutaneous Oncology. “Protect yourself from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, and get your skin checked at least yearly.”

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"Now more than ever, we look forward to when we can get out to the beach and bask in the sunshine, but with or without viruses the sun is not always our friend."

- Dr. Vernon Sondak, chair of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Department of Cutaneous Oncology

One of the easiest ways to stay protected is to limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV light is its most intense. The effects of exposure to UV radiation — whether from the sun or indoor tanning beds — are cumulative, meaning they add up over one’s lifetime. That means the best way to protect yourself is to limit your exposure.

If you notice any unusual changes in your skin, such as a lesion that itches, bleeds or scabs, it’s important to have it checked out, no matter how subtle it seems to be. But an unanticipated side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and its “safer at home” restrictions seems to be that people are not going to the doctor as frequently as they were before.

“We have seen a major drop-off in the number of new melanomas being diagnosed in the Tampa Bay area, and we believe it is largely related to people not being able to get their skin checked as frequently as before,” Sondak said. “If you have a suspicious mole, please get it checked out. If you are diagnosed with any form of skin cancer, at Moffitt we are open for business and ready to safely take care of any patient of any age.”

Moffitt is following Centers for Disease Control guidelines and taking all precautions necessary to protect patients and team members during the pandemic. That includes wearing protective equipment.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. About one in five Americans are at risk of developing skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Exposure to natural and artificial UV light has a direct impact on a person’s risk of developing skin cancer — despite age or skin type. Most cases of melanoma — like the other forms of skin cancer — can be attributed to UV exposure.

To help you protect yourself and your family the skin cancer experts at Moffitt offer the following tips:

  • Sunscreen – Before going outside, always apply a waterproof, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 to 30. Pay particular attention to easily missed areas of your body, such as your ears, the tops of your feet and the part in your hair. Also, remember that sunscreen wears off, so you’ll need to reapply it every two hours, as well as after you swim or sweat.
  • Clothing – The best way to protect your skin from sun damage is to cover it with clothing, including a loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirt and long pants made of a tightly woven fabric. Of course, wearing this type of clothing will be impractical if you’re swimming, so be sure to keep a T-shirt or rash guard on hand to cover up with while you’re in the water.
  • Hat – Protect your head, ears, face and neck with the shade of a wide-brimmed hat constructed of a tightly woven fabric like canvas (UV rays can penetrate a straw hat). If you wear a baseball cap, be doubly sure to protect your ears and neck with sunscreen.
  • Sunglasses – Protect your eyes by wearing wraparound sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays (most sunglasses sold in the U.S. meet this requirement, regardless of their cost). Well-designed sunglasses can help shield your eyes from damaging UV rays, prevent cataracts and also protect the delicate skin around your eyes from the harmful effects of sun exposure.
  • Shade – Seek shade underneath a shelter, umbrella or tree, especially during the midday hours. Even if you are in a shaded area, you should still protect yourself with sunscreen, clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
  • Water – Be sure to stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. While this is always important, it is critical when you are spending time in the sun.

“Skin cancers, including melanoma, are right there on the surface and that means we have the opportunity to find them early when treatment is least invasive and potentially most effective,” Sondak said. “Our way of living has adjusted to deal with the current health situation, but the sun doesn’t care about that and we must remain diligent in protecting ourselves, especially as we head into the summer months.”

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