There are many things we choose to focus on in the dead of winter. One might be sitting by a warm fireplace, another might be counting down the days until it is warm outside again. Something many of us do not concentrate on, though, is protecting our skin from UV rays during the colder months. In fact, many of us probably hide away our sunscreen once the temperature begins to drop. However, temperature change does not equate to UV change. The sun is still shining in the winter, and this means that your skin is still vulnerable to damage.
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined the results of a 2013 survey that asked participants how often they use sunscreen when outside for more than an hour. Only 14.3 percent of men and 29.9 percent of women reported that they regularly use sunscreen on both their face and other exposed skin. (Schaumburg, 2015)
In order to understand why it is so vitally important to your skin and health to wear sunscreen throughout the year, you must first understand what sunscreen, or SPF, actually is.
What does SPF mean?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. In the United States the numerical value of the factor must be shown on the sunscreen bottle label. A law was also passed stating that sunscreen sold in the U.S. must include proof that the brand has passed the “broad spectrum” test.
This is because, “while SPF is a measure of protection against mainly UVB light (and the factor was labeled “UVB SPF” in the past), the SPF number does not give a clear measure of the protection against the slightly longer wavelength of UVA.” (Macgill 2016)
SPF is not an arbitrary measure of low-to-high sun protection, it is a scientific measure of how much lower the risk of skin damage is due to how much longer it takes for enough UVB to get through a sunscreen and cause a sunburn. This is all compared to the time this would take if there was no sunscreen applied.
For example, if it would take 10 times longer to burn the skin with a sunscreen on than it does with no sunscreen on, the SPF is 10. This is the indication of the level of protection a particular formula of sunscreen is going to give against ultraviolet light. The higher the factor number, the higher the level of protection.
It is important to remember that whatever percentage of UV light is blocked by your sunscreen, there is always going to be an amount that is not blocked. The ultraviolet light that does get through the sunscreen layer will cause erythema, better known as sunburn. There is no sunscreen that blocks out 100% of all UV radiation wavelengths.
Advice for buying sunscreen
There are two key items to look for when purchasing a sunscreen.
- SPF 15 or higher. This is considered to be medium protection.
- Broad-spectrum protection.
It is also important to keep in mind that just because a sunscreen is being sold in stores does not always mean that it has phenomenal reviews. It is best to do a little research before deciding which brand to buy. The EWG (Environmental Working Group) assesses qualities such as hazards, effectiveness and stability of different sunscreen brands. This is a reliable organization to seek further brand information from.
Why using sun protection in the winter is still important
You absolutely need sunscreen protection in the winter. Simply because you are no longer basking in the heat under the summer sun for hours on end does not subtract the fact that the sun does still shine in the colder months.
The sun’s rays are just as damaging despite what your thermometer may read. In particular, the UV rays that are responsible for aging skin (UVA) are at an all time high during the winter. Not only this, but the reflection of UV radiation off of the snow and onto your body and face requires aggressive sunscreen protection. It is as if the body is being hit by the sun two times the amount that it is in the summer. If you are someone who spends ample time outside in the snow, it is time to start wearing sunscreen in the winter.
In order for sunscreen to work to its full potential, it needs to be used properly. Be sure that you understand the type of sunscreen that you have purchased and that you follow the instructions carefully. For example, some sunscreens may be sweat proof whilst others are not. If you are doing a strenuous activity outside (like snow sports) and you are wearing sunscreen on your face, there are some sunscreens that will sweat off. Be sure you are using the correct sunscreen for the activity that you are doing.
It is very important to remember in the winter time, that while the sun might not be keeping you as warm, it does still have a negative effect on the skin. In order to protect your skin from these powerful UV rays, use protection on all exposed parts of the body when outside for extended periods of time in the winter.