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Sunscreen In Winter

Sunscreen In Winter


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  • - RAMIN FARZANEH
  • - M.D.C.M CANDIDATE
  • - MCGILL UNIVERSITY

SUNSCREEN: SHOULD YOU WEAR IT ALL YEAR ROUND?

Over the past decades, an increasing number of studies have been linking unprotected sun exposure to various complications and diseases, ranging from the wrinkling of the skin to skin cancers. Due to many successful campaigns conducted by specialists in the field—including dermatologists—people are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of applying sunscreen regularly. However, many wrongfully believe that sunscreen should exclusively be applied during sunny summer days. In fact, experts recommend wearing sunscreen during the winter, regardless of the weather, including snowy and cloudy days.

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MYTH: EXPOSURE TO UV RAYS IS GREATLY DIMINISHED DURING THE WINTER SEASON, REMOVING THE NEED FOR SUNSCREEN

Fact: Given the fact that it is commonly believed that the rays of sunlight appear to be scarce during the winter season, it is important to acknowledge the fact that they continue to be present and that they have the potential to permanently damage the skin. As a result, it is crucial to continue protecting the skin during the winter. In fact, freshly fallen snow may reflect up to eighty percent of the ultraviolet rays and can therefore cause the rays to hit the skin twice as opposed to once during the other seasons. Moreover, the reflected rays can hit areas of the body that are typically not exposed to direct sunlight, such as under the chin. Therefore, it is strongly recommended, regardless of the temperature or the weather, to generously apply sunscreen, particularly on the exposed areas, the hands as well as the face and neck.

MYTH: WHILE THERE ARE RISKS OF HAVING SKIN DAMAGE DURING THE WINTER, THIS RISK IS PRACTICALLY NEGLIGIBLE AS OPPOSED TO DURING THE SUMMER

Fact: Considering the fact that many people tend to neglect the impact of the sun’s rays during the winter, it is not inconceivable for it to be a season wherein people are likely to experience significant skin damage. Indeed, the cold temperature often hides the warm sensation of the sun rays hitting our skin, which causes us to be less aware of any potential damage. Although it is true that UVB rays are less present during the winter, UVA rays, which make up approximately 95% of the sun rays that make it into our atmosphere and can penetrate deeper into our skin, remain consistent throughout the year and can therefore cause considerable damage all year round.

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MYTH: ALTHOUGH USING SUNSCREEN IS IMPORTANT DURING THE WINTER, IT ONLY BECOMES NECESSARY FOR LONG EXPOSURES TO THE SUN

Fact: It can only take a few minutes of unprotected exposure to the sun to permanently damage the skin, although these damages may only appear years after the exposure. However, it is certainly true that the recommendations surrounding sunscreen are increasingly relevant and important for individuals who are exposed to UV rays for longer periods of time such as winter sports enthusiasts, especially those that practice high altitude sports, such as skiing and snowboarding. This is simply due to their greater exposure time to UV rays, both directly and indirectly (reflected), which evidently increases the risk of skin damage. Additionally, air density decreases at higher altitudes since there are less gas molecules in the air. This reduces light scattering and consequently increases the likelihood of UV rays directly hitting the skin.

  1. Englund SL, Adams BB. Winter sports dermatology: a review. Cutis. 2009;83(1):42-8.
  2. Janssen E, van Kann D, de Vries H, Lechner L, van Osch L. Sun protection during snow sports: an analysis of behavior and psychosocial determinants. Health Educ Res. 2015;30(3):380-7.
  3. Russak JE, Chen T, Appa Y, Rigel DS. A comparison of sunburn protection of high-sun protection factor (SPF) sunscreens: SPF 85 sunscreen is significantly more protective than SPF 50. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010;62(2):348-9.
  4. Warren SG. Optical properties of ice and snow. Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci. 2019;377(2146):20180161.
  5. World Health Organization. Global Solar UV Index: A Practical Guide [Internet]. 2002. Available for Download here
  6. The Skin Cancer Foundation. Winter Sun Safety: What to Know About Protecting Yourself During Colder Months [Internet]. 2018. Available here
  7. World Health Organization. Ultraviolet radiation and health [Internet]. Available here