Why You Should Wear Sunscreen in the Winter, Too

Sunscreen is widely associated with protecting our skin from the harsh summer sun as we frolic in the surf and build sand castles in the sand.   But the truth is that the sun’s powerful UV rays are still just as harmful in the winter as they are in the summer. The sun doesn’t take a vacation!  And the harmful UVA radiation that it produces is just as damaging to our skin in the winter, including causing wrinkles and contributing to the risk of skin cancer.

In fact, as people begin engaging in winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding they should be aware that snow reflects the sun’s radiation at a much higher rate than sand does – making protection from the sun an absolute necessity when engaging in activities in the snow.

To keep your skin looking healthy and radiant and lower the risk of skin cancer, follow these tips to keep yourself protected from the damaging effects of the sun this winter season:

Continue to Wear Sunscreen

Don’t stop applying your daily coverage of SPF now that the weather has cooled off. Applying a daily SPF moisturizer each morning is a good habit that should be kept up all year long. Make sure to carry some with you throughout the day so you can reapply as you sweat and move around. Also be sure that you utilize a daily moisturizer that is at least 30 SPF.

Don’t Forget to Protect Your Lips

Our lips are vulnerable to sun damage too, and dry, chapped lips in the winter are no fun. To protect your lips from sun damage and keep them looking healthy and attractive, use a lip balm that is at least SPF 15 and reapply frequently throughout the day.

Utilize Fashion for Protection

Hats and scarves are more than just fun winter fashion accessories.  They are also great ways to protect your neck, face, and scalp from sun damage. Sunglasses should also still be worn in the winter.   Large frames help give additional protection to the skin around the eyes and UV coated lenses protect eyes from UV damage.

Protect Your Hands and Face While Driving

UV rays can penetrate glass, which puts the side of our body closest to the window directly exposed to harmful UV rays while we are driving. For those who travel often or have long daily commutes, this can add up to many weekly hours of harmful exposure. To stay protected keep a bottle of sunscreen and protectant lip balm in your car and apply it to your face, hands, and any other exposed areas before you get on your way.

How to Choose a Safer Sunscreen

Sunscreen helps protect your skin from the dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Some products work by scattering sunlight and reflecting it away from the skin, while others absorb those UV rays before they penetrate the skin. There are two main types of ultraviolet rays that can damage the skin.  UVA, the rays which do not cause sunburn, but can contribute to skin aging.  And UVB rays, which cause sunburn and can contribute to skin cancer.

Most people choose their sunscreen solely based on the SPF (sun protection factor). SPF indicates protection from a fraction of sunburn-producing UVB rays that reach the skin.  However, it does not show how much protection you get from UVA, which may also cause skin damage. Using a product with SPF30, for instance, does not guarantee complete protection from skin damage, just because it enables only 1/30th of the UVB rays to reach the skin.

Broad-Spectrum Protection

Dermatologists recommend that when choosing the best sunscreen, it is important to consider other key factors, such as effectiveness and safety of the active ingredients of the product. In general, it is best to choose sunscreens that can provide broad-spectrum protection, which can shield your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.

Consider safety of the product’s active ingredients

Many sunscreen products contain chemical filters, which may cause skin reactions and toxic side effects. Try to avoid using products that contain the following chemicals:

  • Avobenzone – a UVA-blocker that is also called Parsol 1789, which breaks down when exposed to sunlight and must be stabilized by other chemicals such as octocrylene
  • Homosalate – a weak hormone disruptor, which also breaks down into harmful by-products when exposed to sunlight
  • Octinoxate – an emulsifier that helps stabilize other ingredients when exposed to sunlight, but may increase estrogen production and decrease thyroid hormone function
  • Octisalate – an organic compound that emits a mild floral fragrance and is combined with salicylic acid, which has been associated with reproductive and developmental toxicity
  • Octocrylene – an organic compound that may cause allergic reactions in sensitive skin
  • Oxybenzone – a chemical that is used to stabilize avobenzone, but can get into your bloodstream and mimic estrogen in your body. It can also trigger allergic skin reactions.
  • Retinyl Palmitate – a type of vitamin A that is used to help prevent skin ageing, but has been associated with an increased risk of developing skin tumors

Try to look for sunscreens that contain mineral ingredients

  • Titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which do not penetrate the skin and are less expensive than newer ingredients. Because these ingredients are not absorbed into the bloodstream, they are also safe for use in babies and young children.  Just be sure that they are used with inert chemicals that reduce photoactivity and prevent skin damage.

More Safety Tips

When you look at the list of ingredients in a bottle of sunscreen, you will find that there are many other ingredients included to enhance the product’s quality, such as fragrance or creaminess. These inactive ingredients may also have undesirable effects, so it’s best to watch out for sunscreen products that contain the following:

  • Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), which are widely used as preservatives, but are suspected to be endocrine disruptors and a cause of cancer
  • Parabens, which are used as preservatives, but are suspected to be endocrine disruptors
  • Parfum or fragrance, which may be found even in “unscented” products and can trigger allergies or asthma and are sometimes linked to neurotoxicity and cancer
  • Polyethylene glycol, which is used in as cream bases, but can cause cancer
  • Petrolatum, a common ingredient used as a moisture barrier, but which may be contaminated with cancer-linked polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Other sunscreens also incorporate ingredients that enhance their use, aside from sun protection. For instance, some include harmful tanning oils or bug repellents to attract buyers who might want these added uses. It is best to stay away from these sunscreens if you are not sure about the effects they may have on your health.

 Which Sunscreen Should You Choose?

Choosing a skin product to protect your skin from harmful UV rays should not be complicated. In summary, it is best to select a broad-spectrum product that can shield you from both UVA and UVB rays and have effects that allow you to stay protected longer under the sun. This means that a product with a higher SPF value (15-30) is acceptable for minimum protection, but select higher SPFs for longer sun exposures.

Select a product whose active ingredients include mainly titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which do not penetrate the skin and are safe even for children. Avoid those that include lots of preservative, perfumes and other stabilizers that may cause adverse reactions.

Lastly, use your sunscreen as advised by your doctor or according to directions found on the product and enjoy your day in the sun.