Has COVID-19 Had an Effect on Sun Protection Behaviours?

Quarantine fatigue amongst the general public may result in a higher incidence rate of sunburn, according to a recent analysis of Google search trends.

Boothby-Shoemaker et al. (2021) compared Google search volumes for “sunburn” for the COVID-19 pandemic peak period, defined here as March-September 2020, with previous four years, in the United States.

They discovered that whilst there was no overall significant difference between March-September 2020 vs previous years, there was a significant decrease in search volumes for “sunburn” during the period where people were asked to stay at home (<0.001 for all years). This was swiftly followed by a significant increase in sunburn search volumes during the period where lockdown measures were eased (<0.05 for all years).

The research team also discovered that there was interest amongst the public in tinted and mineral sunscreens, suggesting a potential shift in consumer demands and expectations of photoprotection products.

Interpretation of Google search terms should be taken with care. As acknowledged by the authors, search volumes for “sunburn” may not accurately reflect the actual incidence of sunburn. Nevertheless, what it does show is how public concern for sunburn fluctuates in relation to the COVID-19 restrictions enforced upon them.

The authors put forward the notion of “quarantine fatigue” as a plausible explanation for the increase in interest around sunburn, as people felt the urge to engage in outdoor activities which had been banned.

This report demonstrates clearly, how search engine search trends can reveal important insight into health interests. The authors suggested that health agencies harness this power to more effectively tailor the timing of photoprotection awareness messaging, to coincide with future easing of lockdown measures.

A comparison of international Google search terms related to photoprotection was analysed by Hopkins and Secrest (2018), in an article published in the journal Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine. The authors found that searches for sunscreen and sunburn increased for all countries from 2004 – 2017. Additionally, they reported a strong intra‐term correlation between sunscreen and sunburn. This goes to show that the international community is becoming more aware of the need for skin protection using sunscreen, and see photoprotection as an area of interest. It may also indicate that there is an unmet need when it comes to avoiding UV-induced and High Energy Visible light skin damage.

CLINUVEL has focused decades of research on the interaction of light and human biology. As specialists in the properties of visible and ultraviolet light, we are committed to innovating novel solutions for unmet healthcare needs and improving quality of life.

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