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6 Reasons You Need to Wear Sunscreen in Winter

Do you check the weather before deciding whether you should wear sunscreen? You need that protection year-round—science explains why

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Don’t skip this essential skincare step

It’s easy to remember your sunscreen with reminders like bright sunshine and heat in the summer. Although the sun might not feel as strong in the winter, it’s a huge mistake to skip sunscreen during this time. Sunscreen should be a staple part of your routine no matter the weather or time of year. Here’s why it’s especially important to use it in the winter.

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UV rays penetrate winter clouds

No matter how thick those overcast clouds look in the winter, up to 80 percent of the sun’s rays can still penetrate them. Samer Jaber, MD, of Washington Square Dermatology in New York City explains that there are two types of UV rays that affect us, one of which is absolutely still very dangerous during winter. “UVA is always present and can penetrate clouds, glass, and deeper into the skin. UVA damages deeper skin layers, resulting in premature aging and increased risk of skin cancer,” Dr. Jaber says. “UVB rays, on the other hand, vary in intensity and season. UVB rays are greater on sunny days during the summer. They damage the more superficial layers of the skin, resulting in sunburns and skin cancer,” he says. The takeaway: UVA rays are potent year-round, therefore your skin needs year-round protection.

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Sunscreen has useful anti-aging properties

If there’s one season you want to work harder to prevent dry skin and wrinkles, it’s winter, so slather on that sunscreen and use it to keep your skin radiant. Harsh winter weather is incredibly drying and taxing on skin. Fortunately, sunscreen has proven anti-aging properties. (These new game-changing anti-agers can help too). “UV rays damage collagen and elastin in your skin, resulting in acceleration of fine lines and wrinkles,” says Dr. Jaber. “There have been numerous studies that have shown that regular use of sunscreen has anti-aging effects, but the best was an Australian study published in 2013,” says Dr. Jaber. “Researchers compared skin aging in 900 men and women from Australia over a four-year period. They found that those that used sunscreen daily, had no detectable increase in skin aging! Overall, they had 24 percent less aging than those that did not wear sunscreen. The average age of participants was 39, so it shows it is never too late to start wearing sunscreen. “Reach for a sheer sunscreen like SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 that provides broad-spectrum protection and has other anti-aging properties.

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The dangers are even indoors

Even if you work in an office all day long, you shouldn’t skip sunscreen. This is especially true if you sit near a window or drive to work. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, glass blocks UVB rays well, but not UVA rays. The same goes for glass windows on planes, buses, and in cars, per the Skin Cancer Foundation. Even this small dose of sunlight may impact your skin. One study found that people sitting near windows had more wrinkles and deeper crow’s feet on the side of their faces exposed to the window. Of course, there’s also the blue light from computers and screens that may be a concern. Some research shows too much blue light exposure may lead to cell abnormalities and death. But the jury is still out exactly what blue light does to the skin as other research shows blue light might be effective for treating acne. Either way, smoothing on sunscreen isn’t going to hurt.

winter sports and sunscreen in wintertatyana_tomsickova/Getty Images

Winter sports put you at higher risk of UV exposure

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UV radiation increases by 5 percent with every thousand feet you rise above sea level. This means the higher your elevation, the greater your exposure to harmful UV rays. Plus, snow reflects and intensifies sunlight, making you highly susceptible to a burn. If you plan on spending time in the mountains skiing, snowboarding, or cabin-dwelling this winter, be sure to always protect yourself with a sport sunscreen of at least 30 SPF. A sunscreen stick like Sun Bum SPF 30 Face Stick slips easily into your ski jacket for reapplications on the go. (This one skincare move will keep your face glowing all winter long.)

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Winter conditions remove sunscreen faster

On a hot day at the beach, you’re likely to sweat off your sunscreen and need to reapply. What most people don’t realize, however, is that winter’s harsh conditions erode your sunscreen even faster. The Skin Cancer Foundation cautions that snow and strong winds wear away sunscreen and reduce its effectiveness, so during winter, you can’t just apply in the morning and assume you’re protected all day. Instead, it’s recommended that during winter you reapply every two hours, and immediately after sweating. One to try is Coola Mineral Face Matte Moisturizer SPF 30

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Winter is fair game for skin cancer

In the same way, smoking cigarettes can cause lung cancer at any time of year, so too does the sun cause skin cancer at any time. Cancer does not take a break when it’s cold, cloudy, and gray. Just because the sun isn’t at the forefront of your mind during winter, doesn’t mean it’s actually any further away. During winter, you’re still at risk of getting skin cancer, so you must protect yourself accordingly. “An estimated one in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetimes,” says Dr. Jaber. “The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone wear sunscreen daily. Ultraviolet radiation (UV) results in free radical formation, DNA damage, and DNA mutations. Repeat DNA damage can result in skin cancer, and 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with UV exposure from the sun.”

Sources
Medically reviewed by Jessica Wu, MD, on March 30, 2020