Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can put away your sunscreen especially if you are heading out to the slopes for skiing or snowboarding. Even though there are plenty of layers to keep you covered and cozy, it is still important to protect any exposed skin (your face, neck, and hands) by slathering on the sunscreen.
“Snow and ice reflect the sun’s UV rays back up onto your skin which not only cause skin cancer but are also the source of about 90 percent of all wrinkles,” says Dr. Sivakami Thayu an internal medicine physician at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital.
Dr. Thayu explains that the combination of higher altitude and ultraviolet rays reflected by the snow put skiers and snowboarders at an increased risk of sun damage and ultimately skin cancer.
“We know that more than 90 percent of all skin cancers are associated with sun exposure so winter is definitely a time to be taking care of your skin and not just in the summer,” she says.
UV radiation exposure increases 4 to 5 percent with every 1,000 feet above sea level. At an altitude of 9,000 to 10,000 feet, UV radiation may be 35 to 45 percent more intense than at sea level. In addition, snow reflects up to 80 percent of the UV light from the sun, meaning that you are often hit by the same rays twice. This only increases the risk for damage.
“It’s easy to associate winter with frostbite and windburn, but most people don’t realize UV rays can be every bit as damaging on the slopes as on the beach,” says Dr. Thayu. “With the winter sports season upon us, it’s more important than ever to take proper precautions when they go outside.”
Both snow and strong wind can wear away sunscreen and reduce its effectiveness. To protect your skin from the bitter cold, heavy winds and winter sun, follow these important sun protection tips:
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher when spending extended time outside.
- Apply sunscreen liberally and evenly to all exposed skin. You should apply at least a teaspoon to the face.
- Cover often-missed spots like lips, ears, around the eyes, and on the neck, the underside of chin, scalp and hands.
- Reapply every two hours, and immediately after heavy sweating.
- Always wear a lip balm with an SPF 15 or higher.
- Cover your head – it will protect your scalp and help keep you warm.
- Wear items like ski masks, which will leave very little skin exposed to the wind and sun.
- Wear sunglasses or goggles that offer 99 percent or greater UV protection and have wraparound or large frames will protect your eyes, eyelids and the sensitive skin around your eyes, which are common sites for skin cancers and sun-induced aging.
- If possible, ski early in the morning and later on in the day, before 10 AM and after 4 PM. This decreases the amount of time spent outdoors in the most intense sunlight.
“It’s just as easy to get sunburned in winter as in summer so please keep slathering on that sunscreen year round and don’t forget to put it on your kids as well,” says Dr. Thayu.
About the Author
Erin Abbey is the public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington where she works on getting the word out about hospital news and accomplishments as well as community events and activities. CLICK HERE to read the latest articles Erin has written for Advocate Health’s enews platform at achealthenews.com.
She is also the author of our 365 Barrington Barrington Health series focused on advice from area physicians, the latest medical news and trends toward better health in and around Barrington.