On a snowy winter day, would you leave your house without a heavy coat? How about gloves and a hat? Or lined, waterproof snow boots? No, of course not. That’s just part of being prepared for the elements. While having the right outerwear seems like best way to stay healthy and protected, one little step often goes overlooked: Sunscreen. Yes, sunscreen. Just because the days are shorter and the sky is overcast, doesn’t mean UV protection isn’t important. While many equate sunburns with hot temperatures and sunny days, you can still get a sunburn in the middle of even the harshest of winters.
How do you get a sunburn in winter? It may seem obvious, but the biggest reason why people get sunburns in winter is because they skip the sunscreen. The deceptively glum weather isn’t blocking out all of the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. In fact, up to 80 percent of these rays are able to penetrate the winter cloud cover and wreak havoc on your skin. “UVA rays are sneaky,” says Dr. Peter Katz of the Forefront Dermatology clinics in Appleton and New London, Wis. “While you won’t get a sunburn from exposure to UVA rays like you do with UVB rays, they penetrate deeper into your skin, where they do a whole lot of harm. They damage collagen, which contributes to signs of aging. They cause sun damage in the form of discoloration, freckles, and liver spots. And, most importantly, they can cause cancer. Winter or summer, it doesn’t matter. Same rays. Same damage.”
What do you need to look out for? According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the three things you need to keep in mind are reflection, altitude and wind.
Reflection: That fresh blanket of snow may seem inviting, but it’s increasing your UV exposure. White is reflective, so, not only are you receiving radiation directly from the sun, you’re also exposed to radiation that has bounced off the snow’s reflective surface.
Altitude: The further away from sea level you get, the greater your exposure to UV rays. For every 1,000 feet above sea level you climb, UV exposure increases 8-10 percent. For instance, the amount of radiation you absorb in Denver (alt. 5,280 ft.) is up to 50% more than what you would in Los Angeles (alt. 230 ft.).
Wind: Even when you do apply sunscreen before heading outdoors, that biting winter wind is working against your due diligence. Wind alone will not increase your exposure to UV radiation. However, wind coupled with cold temperatures and abrasive ice particles will wear away any applied sunscreen, making frequent reapplication necessary.
Keep your skin healthy all year long. While the thought of constant bombardment from harmful UV radiation may be a bit unsettling – especially when attempting to enjoy the winter weather – it’s easy to avoid the brunt of its attack. Before you go a-wassailing, just remember to slather on the sunscreen. For more information about the effects of UVA or UVB radiation, schedule a visit with the skin experts at Forefront Dermatology. To find the physician nearest you, visit the Locations page today.