It’s finally winter, and even though we said goodbye to the long, sunny summer days months ago, damage from UV rays should still be a concern addressed by your skincare routine. Yes, you can get sun damage even in the dreary winter months. So don’t pack away your sunscreen with your swim suit. UV radiation is less powerful this time of year, but still present. Here are a few ways that you can protect yourself and your skin from the sun even in winter.
Do Stick With Your Broad Spectrum Sunscreen
It’s cold, it’s windy and the last thing that’s on your mind is protecting yourself from the sun. If anything, you might be yearning for just a glimpse of bright, shining light from between snowy, grey clouds. But don’t let the darker skies and shorter days fool you; UV radiation is still reaching you. Even in the winter shade you’re susceptible to UV damage. A study published by Photochemistry and Photobiology took a look at the amount of UV radiation present beneath public shade structures. The study concluded that “the UV radiation levels in the shade in winter could cause erythema and other sun-related disorders.”
The Mayo Clinic recommends using a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB radiation. “UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkling and age spots,” says the clinic. “UVB rays can burn your skin. Too much exposure to UVA or UVB rays can cause skin cancer.” The Clinic suggests that the kind of UV rays the sunscreen protects against is of greater importance than the SPF number. The same rules about summer sunscreen apply in winter: use a healthy amount, reapply often and shoot for broad spectrum, SPF 30+.
Don’t Rule Out Damage During Winter Sports
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, winter sports enthusiasts are at an increased risk for overexposure to the sun’s harsh radiation. “The combination of higher altitude and UV rays reflected by the snow puts skiers and snowboarders at an increased risk of sun damage, and ultimately skin cancer,” the foundation’s website says. Higher elevation can increase UV radiation exposure 4 to 5 percent with every 1,000 feet above sea level. This means that at an altitude of 9,000 to 10,000 feet, UV radiation has the potential to be 35 to 45 percent more damaging. Those high slopes become risky locations for more than just broken bones. The Skin Cancer Foundation also mentions that snow can reflect up to 80 percent of UV light, bouncing those rays at you from both directions, increasing your exposure.
The Foundation recommends anyone participating in outdoor winter activities protect themselves. Slather that broad spectrum sunscreen over any exposed skin about 30 minutes before hitting the slopes. Keep applying it liberally every few hours and don’t forget to protect the sensitive skin on your lips with a balm that has an SPF as well. Limit your time in the sun, too. Be the first to make fresh tracks in the morning, hit the lodge in the afternoon when the sun is at its brightest and carve powder for a twilight session when the sun goes down.
Don’t Worry Too Much About Vitamin D
With the sun hiding behind winter clouds, it’s easy to see why some people might be concerned about additional sun protection interfering with their daily need for vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can be pretty scary, too. It can cause brittle, misshapen bones, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and suppressed immune function, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sunlight can help us make up for any vitamin D deficiencies in our diet, but when the sun is less strong, it makes less of an impact.
Don’t skip the broad spectrum sunscreen, however. A study from the British Journal of Dermatology proved that, while levels of vitamin D decreased in all participants in winter and were lower in those that used sunscreen, the levels didn’t drop enough to make a significant impact. Researchers said that a clinically prescribed sunscreen with an SPF of 15 didn’t induce any of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency (secondary hyperparathyroidism or an increase in bone biological markers). The benefits of sunscreen far outweigh any concerns about vitamin D. And if you’re still worried you’re not getting enough, talk to your doctor about supplementation. Stay away from bright sunlamps, though. Experts at the University of California Berkeley recommend steering clear of them, since the fluorescent bulbs produce high-intensity UVB rays.