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Should I Wear Sunscreen in the Winter?

March 05, 2024

Sunscreen and winter doesn’t seem like a natural pairing. But if you’re spending time outdoors during the colder months, you’re still at risk of sun-related skin damage.

Here’s why it may be time to dig the sunscreen out of your beach bag, according to an expert.

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Rays don’t retreat in the winter.

Don’t let the winter weather trick you. Those harmful UV rays are present all-year long, and can be even worse in the winter, says Krishna Gunturu, MD, with the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.

The reason? All that snow acts as a reflective surface — much like water does — intensifying the sun’s impact and bouncing up to 80% of UV rays at your skin from multiple angles. This increases the risk of sunburn and long-term issues including skin cancer.

> Related: 12 Dos and Don’ts You Need to Know Before Your Next Sunburn

Higher altitude means higher risk.

Attention skiers and snowboarders: spending time at higher altitude can be another risk factor for sun-related skin damage.

“When skiing or snowboarding, there are several factors that cause UV damage and sunburn including thinner atmosphere at higher altitudes, UV radiation penetrating the clouds even on overcast days, and wind creating a false sense of cooling,” says Dr. Gunturu.

Choosing the right sunscreen.

When choosing a sunscreen, the American Academy of Dermatology says you should check the label for these three things:

  1. Broad spectrum: The words “broad spectrum” means that the sunscreen can protect your skin from both types of harmful UV rays — the UVA rays and the UVB rays.
  2. SPF 30 or higher: The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you select a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher.
  3. Water resistant: Dermatologists also recommend that you look for the words “water resistant.” This tells you that the sunscreen will stay on wet or sweaty skin for a while before you need to reapply. Water resistance lasts either 40 or 80 minutes. Not all sunscreens offer water resistance.

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Preventing premature aging.

Sunscreen use is important for preventing skin cancer, and is also key in preventing premature aging.

“UV exposure is one of the primary causes of premature aging, leading to wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots. By applying sunscreen every two hours, even in winter, you contribute to maintaining youthful and healthy-looking skin,” says Gunturu.