As weather drops to freezing temperatures and the sun hides behind dense layers of clouds, a natural instinct might be to set aside your sunscreen until the summer months. But your instincts are wrong.
Contrary to popular belief, sunscreen remains vital throughout the winter months in preventing skin cancer, aging and sunspots. Skin protection is necessary every day of the year, regardless of weather.
Should you wear sunscreen in the winter?
According to a 2019 study by RealSelf Sun Safety, only 10% of U.S. adults apply sunscreen daily, but the UVA rays remain consistent throughout the year.
“Even when it’s cold or overcast, UV rays that cause skin aging and skin cancer are reaching your skin,” says Dr. Deborah S. Sarnoff, president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “In the right winter weather conditions, you can sustain sun damage just as easily as during the summer.”
The sun puts out two types of rays: UVA and UVB. UVB has shorter rays and is associated with burns. UVA has long rays and is associated with aging. Both are present all year round. UVA rays are still powerful during the winter months and can penetrate through clouds, fog and your skin, causing premature aging and skin spots.
“During the winter months, our skin barrier is more vulnerable to environmental changes, so it’s already working harder to stay balanced and healthy,” said Dr. Sandra Lee, also known as Dr. Pimple Popper, per HuffPost. “Wearing sunscreen during the day means your skin cells have less damage to try to repair overnight, which can help protect you from premature aging (not to mention skin cancer).”
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone (men, women and children) wear sunscreen every single day. Daily use of SPF 15 reduces risk of squamous cell carcinoma by 40% and melanoma risk by 50%. It will also prevent premature aging in the form of wrinkled, sagging skin or age spots.
Sunscreen and winter sports
Winter sports can put you at higher risk of UV exposure. UV radiation increases with elevation, so if you head up the mountains to ski or snowboard, you are at higher risk of UV damage. Even with all the ski gear, it is vital to apply sunscreen before you ski.
According to NASA, snow and ice reflect up to 90% of the sun’s rays, so the rays hit you twice and can cause major damage.
For winter sports, up the ante and apply a higher SPF sunscreen. Instead of 15 or 30 SPF, use 50 or above.
Skin cancer in the U.S.
More than two people die of skin cancer every hour in the U.S. and 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the time they are 70 years old, reports the Skin Cancer Foundation.
The two main causes of skin cancer are UV rays and UV tanning beds. Skin cancer is commonly found in areas most often exposed to the sun, such as the face, shoulders, ears and neck.
Some of the best prevention methods are daily sunscreen use, UV-blocking sunglasses, protective window film in cars and offices and annual skin exams with your physician.
Daily sunscreen options
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen — meaning it protects against UVA and UVB rays, and is at least SPF 15. Here are a few sunscreen options to apply daily to your face and neck.
Amazon’s No. 1-selling facial sunscreen is a favorite among dermatologists. Dr. Marnie Nussbaum likes it so much she wears it everyday, per New York magazine. According to over 28,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, this sunscreen is different than most because it doesn’t feel thick or oily and it protects acne-prone skin. It is also infused with niacinimide, an anti-inflammatory vitamin that fights breakouts, locks in moisture and reduces pores and redness in the skin.
Another best-seller on Amazon, Cetaphil’s sunscreen doubles as a daily moisturizer and sunscreen. It’s lightweight, and infused with hyaluronic acid, which locks in moisture and fights aging. This daily moisturizer is perfect for sensitive skin types and it is oil-free, fragrance-free and hypo-allergenic.
If your skin is acne-prone, this might be the best daily sunscreen option for you. It is free of chemical sunscreen filters, fragrances, dyes, oils and preservatives. It is broad-spectrum and made with antioxidants C and E, which help block damages to skin cells. This sunscreen is made for all skin types, especially acne-prone, rosacea-prone, dry and oily skin.
This is one of the best sunscreens for oily skin. It is a lightweight, oil-free, gel-based moisturizer that rubs in easily and is nearly invisible after being applied. Some of the key ingredients in Unseen Sunscreen are red algae to protect against blue light, frankincense to smooth the skin and a complex derived from meadow foam seed, which hydrates skin and promotes an even skin texture,
This broad-spectrum daily moisturizer with SPF 30 was developed with dermatologists and is recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation. It is oil-free and made with hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to help calm and hydrate skin. CeraVe also makes its products with three essential ceramides, which help restore and protect the skin barrier.