Sunscreen might not be your first thought as you hit the slopes or shovel the driveway this winter, and that’s a problem. Learn how sunscreen is an important tool for protecting your skin all year round, winter included.
Sun damage, whether it leads to a sunburn or not, is destructive to your skin cells on a cellular level. Ultraviolet radiation in sunlight penetrates the layers of your skin and damages cells. A sunburn or tan is evidence of damage, as the skin cells try to cope and repair themselves. And here’s the important thing: your skin can sustain sun damage any time of the year. If the sun is out (even if it’s behind clouds), you’re being exposed to UV radiation. Sure, in the winter, daylight hours are shorter, and the earth is further from the sun, but that doesn’t mean nearly as much as you think it does. It’s true that in winter, the sunlight is not as intense as in summer, but that often lulls you into a false sense of security. If you’re safe about your skin in the summer but don’t pay it any mind in the cold months, you’re actually still subjecting your skin to sun damage. Even if you don’t see it or feel it, it is happening whenever you step outside during the day unprotected. Snow poses a unique threat to your skin when it comes to sun damage. Snow is very reflective, and it can actually bounce ultraviolet light in all directions, so you may be exposed even when in the shade.
Sunscreen might seem like overkill in the winter, but we promise you it isn’t. While you are bundled up and wearing long sleeves or jackets, there are parts of your skin that aren’t protected. Not wearing a hat? Your ears and scalp are exposed to sun damage. No gloves? Your hands are exposed. If you aren’t in a full ski-mask, your face and eyes are at risk. Using sunscreen on any exposed skin will ensure that your skin is well-protected. A general rule of thumb is to reapply sunscreen every two hours, so keep it with you if you’re out and about enjoying the winter scenery.
Fortunately, many cosmetic products like makeup and facial moisturizers contain a daily sunscreen. If this is the case, these 15 to 20 SPF sunscreens are sufficient for winter protection if you’re just out running errands. If you expect to spend any substantial time in the sunlight, you’re going to want to opt for at least 30 SPF. And make sure you’re applying it to all your skin that may be in direct or indirect sunlight.
If you are not sure what kind of sunscreen is best for you, don’t worry. There are two main types of sunscreen: physical and chemical. Chemical absorbs ultraviolet radiation and prevents it from penetrating the skin. Physical sunscreen deflects the harmful UV rays from the surface of your skin. Many bottles don’t advertise themselves in big bold letters as one or the other, so do a little research and find what works best for you. Everyone’s skin is different, so you may find that some sunscreens are too heavy or harsh on your sensitive skin.
A sunburn is not the end of the world. It’s uncomfortable and painful for a few days, and you learn your lesson, right? Hopefully! But a sunburn implies that your skin was damaged, and when your skin cells repair themselves, they may develop mutations. These mutations are the main way that skin cancer develops. Skin cancer happens when skin cells mutate and replicate at an accelerated pace. Skin cancer can be life threatening if undetected or untreated. Pay close attention to your skin for any changes, notably things like new or evolving moles or actinic keratoses. Actinic keratosis is a skin condition caused by sun damage that can often precede squamous cell carcinoma, a common form of cancer. AKs can appear anywhere that the skin’s been damaged by sunlight, and they often look and feel like a rough dry patch of skin. Treating AKs early prevents them from having the opportunity to become cancerous. No matter how much or how little sun damage you’ve had in your life, you can possibly develop skin cancer at some point. This risk grows for you each year. Keep your skin safe year-round. Wear sunscreen and be aware of what sun damage can do to your health.
You don’t have to ever fear the sun, but you need to know what you’re risking by not protecting your skin. Have more questions about winter sun damage? Call the sun damage pros at Northeast Dermatology Associates today.
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