By Amy Kennard
We all do it. As soon as that first chill hits the air, we pack away our shorts, tank tops, and swimsuits in favor of jeans, sweaters, and winter coats. There’s one thing you’re packing away that you shouldn’t — your sunscreen.
That’s right. Just because the temperatures change doesn’t mean you’re not at risk for damage by the sun’s rays, even in the winter. Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can damage your skin year-round, even during a time of year when the sun shines for fewer hours per day. In fact, winter conditions can actually multiply UV radiation.
Snow and ice nearly double your UV exposure — the UV light hits you on its way down from the sun, then again on its way back up to you as it bounces off the snow. Even those cold, gray, overcast days can pose risk, with between 50 and 80 percent of UV rays penetrating through the clouds.
Elevating your risk
Planning on hitting the slopes this winter? Slip that sunscreen in your bag, stat. UV radiation increases four to five percent for each additional thousand feet in elevation. So, at an altitude of 9,000 to 10,000 feet, UV radiation may be 35 to 45 percent more intense than at sea level!
Dr. Doug Leone is a board-certified dermatologist at the Dermatology and Mohs Surgery Institute in Bloomington. As an avid skier, he offers sound advice for any winter sports enthusiasts. “Not only do you need to protect your skin from the sun, but from the wind as well,” he says. “Apply sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 or higher liberally and evenly to all exposed skin — most skiers and snowboarders just don’t use enough. Look for a moisturizing sunscreen with ingredients like lanolin or glycerin, since winter conditions can be particularly harsh on the skin.” Finally, he advises, “Carry a travel-sized sunscreen with you to reapply on the chair lift after a trip down the slopes, since snow and wind can wear it away quickly.”
Dr. Leone also recommends sunglasses or goggles that offer 99 percent or greater UV protection and have wraparound or large frames to protect your eyes, eyelids, and the sensitive skin around your eyes, which are common sites for skin cancers and sun-induced aging.
Getting burned in the cold
Even if you’re spending the winter at sea level, sun protection should still be a priority, and not just when you’re venturing outside to shovel the driveway or walk the dog. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that 50 percent of UVA radiation can penetrate through glass, and car windows alone can let in more than 60 percent of these harmful rays. It’s therefore possible to accumulate sun damage even by riding in a vehicle or sitting near a window.
“You can actually apply a clear film to your car windows that will block 99.9 percent of UVA and UVB rays,” says Dr. Adrienne Schupbach, also a board-certified dermatologist at the Dermatology and Mohs Surgery Institute. She also recommends applying at least two tablespoons of sunscreen over exposed skin, including often-missed spots like the lips, ears, around the eyes, neck, underside of chin and hands. “And, if you’re using the same bottle of sunscreen from over the summer,” she cautions, “check the expiration date.”
Finally, if you’re planning on going away to a warmer climate for your winter vacation, don’t be tempted to get a “base tan” before you leave. It won’t offer you much protection against getting burned at the beach and also causes great damage to your skin. In fact, research shows that those who use tanning beds, even if only occasionally, are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who do not.
Sun protection should be a part of your daily routine, no matter what time of year it is. Make it a priority as high as any other self-care you do on a daily basis, and you’ll be saving another vital part of you — your skin.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, you may contact the Dermatology and Mohs Surgery Institute at 309-451-DERM (3376), www.dermatologistbloomington.com. Dr. Leone and Dr. Schupbach, both residents of Bloomington, are board-certified dermatologists, specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology, including the treatment of skin cancer, moles, acne, rashes, warts, and all skin disorders. Dr. Leone is one of the few Mohs-trained surgeons in the area. Their practice is located at 3024 E. Empire St., 2nd floor (in the Advocate BroMenn outpatient center).