Just because the temperatures are dropping, and you’re wearing more layers doesn’t mean you can neglect your sunscreen use — but many people seem to think winter means you don’t need to worry about sun protection anymore.
Why is sunscreen just as important during the winter months, and what can we do to encourage its use during the cooler months?
Snow vs. Sand
One of the best parts of winter is getting to play in the snow and participate in winter activities like snowboarding, skiing and sledding. While this is a great way to get exercise during the cooler months, it’s also more dangerous when it comes to sun exposure for two reasons:
- Snow reflects more UV rays than sand. Research has shown that snow can reflect up to 80% of the light, so you’re getting nearly twice the sun exposure while you’re out on the slopes.
- UV light is more intense at higher altitudes. If you’re heading up the mountain for some good skiing or snowboarding action, you may be experiencing rays 35 to 45% more intensely than you’d experience at sea level.
While it’s still important to slather on that sunscreen when you’re at the beach, it arguably becomes more important if you’re hitting the slopes or playing out in the snow.
We’ve all probably been sunburned before in our lives. You get so wrapped up in your beach day fun that you forget to reapply your sunscreen — or neglect to put it on at all.
Did you know that it only takes one or two really bad sunburns as a child to double your risk of getting skin cancer as an adult?
These sunburns don’t necessarily have to happen during the hot summer months, either. Winter sunburns can be just as severe — and often worse because you don’t think to put sunscreen on exposed skin when you’re bundled from head to toe in snow gear. How can you encourage sunscreen use during the winter months? Here are a few ways:
- Make It a Daily Habit
We should all be in the habit of putting on sunscreen every day and reapplying it regularly as long as we’re out in the sun. Start by making it a daily habit. Every day, before you leave the house, put on sunscreen — even if the only sun you’ll be seeing is between your front door and the car. If you’re outdoors, carry sunscreen with you at all times and put it on during your water breaks.
By making it a habit, you won’t need to be reminded to put it on. It will instead be in the forefront of your mind while you’re enjoying the outdoors, no matter what season is it.
- Include It in Your Skincare Regimen
If you use a moisturizer daily, especially one for your face, consider investing in one that includes sunscreen. This way it becomes part of your routine rather than having to be one more product that you add to your face or carry around with you.
The ADA recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher, so make sure you look for that when you’re choosing skin care products.
- Improve Your Diet
This might sound like a ploy to get you eat healthier, but recent studies have found that diets high in antioxidants can help to protect against sun-related skin damage. This is not an overnight fix — it requires a long-term lifestyle change, but by increasing the level of antioxidants in your diet over a long period, you can reduce the effects of UV radiation on your skin.
Antioxidants act as a natural sunscreen, in that it takes longer for your skin to start to burn.
- Set up a DIY Sunscreen Stand
Do you or your kids constantly use the same door when you’re heading out for your outdoor adventures? Set up a sunscreen stand by that door. You want it to be the last thing you see before you head out of the house so it’s always fresh in your mind.
If you’re handy, you can build a sunscreen dispenser — similar to the hand sanitizer dispensers that you see at hospitals and other public spaces — or you can make something as simple as a couple of beach buckets hanging on a hook by your door. The key is to make sure you see your sunscreen every single time you leave the house.
- Don’t Blame It on Windburn
It’s easy to blame your red cheeks and nose on windburn, especially if you’re flying down the hill on skis or sleds. While windburn can certainly redden your skin, ignoring the need for sunscreen can leave you vulnerable to sunburn as well.
- Cover up as Much as Possible
This might seem like a no-brainer, considering the cooler temperatures, but you definitely want to try to cover up as much skin as possible. In addition to keeping your head warm, hats can protect your scalp and ears from the sun. Ski masks, which cover basically everything except your eyes, can do wonders to protect your face, too.
Make sure you also think about your eye-wear. If you’re participating in winter sports, you’re probably wearing goggles or sunglasses to protect your eyes from the dry winter air. Invest in some eye gear that offers UV protection as well to protect your eyelids and other sensitive tissues that you don’t normally think to put sunscreen on.
- Reapply, Reapply, Reapply
No one is saying that you need to spend the winter months indoors — take advantage of the amazing cool weather and, of course, all the snow! While you’re frolicking, though, it’s important to reapply your sunscreen. Even waterproof sunscreen can be sweated off given enough time.
If you’re not sweating heavily, take a break to reapply your sunscreen every couple of hours. If you are exerting yourself and sweating up a storm, you’ll need to reapply more often. Use these sunscreen breaks as an excuse to rehydrate yourself as well — you don’t think about it as much during the cold months, but you need to stay hydrated even while you’re enjoying the snowy weather.
The biggest thing we can all do to help improve sunscreen use during the winter months is to make it a daily habit. Put on sunscreen every time you leave the house, even if you’re only going to the grocery store. That way, you don’t have to be reminded to protect your skin, no matter the weather.