You may not feel the warmth of the sun on your face in the winter, but you could still be experiencing the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays. “Most people think that they don’t need sunscreen when it is cold outside, but they do,” explains Dr. Tejas Desai, DO, dermatologist on the medical staff at Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital. “UV light refracts at a higher index in water than in air. During these cold winter days as light is shined through the clouds - which are full of water - then light, as it reflects back on our skin, may be of a higher intensity than what you experience on a clear, hot summer day.”
So even if you have put away the swim suit and shoved your sandals to the back of the closet, you should keep sunscreen handy when you go outside. “Skin that is exposed should be protected year-round,” says Dr. Desai. “If you’re going outside, use sunscreen that has a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 30 and reapply it every two to three hours to reduce the risks for skin cancer and premature aging.”
Dr. Desai advises those who participate in winter sports, such as skiing and snowboarding, to be especially vigilant in protecting their skin. While ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which are responsible for sunburns and skin cancer, are not as strong during the winter months, ultraviolet A (UVA) rays typically remain steady and also can contribute to skin cancer and skin aging. In addition, winter sports often take place at higher elevations and UV rays reflect off the snow.
“Even if you’re not hitting the slopes, at least wear a moisturizer with sunscreen when you go outside in the winter,” adds Dr. Desai. “And don’t forget that lips and eyes need protection too. So take some lip balm with you and wear sunglasses that not only help prevent cataracts, but also reduce the risk of developing skin cancers around the eyes.”
For a free referral to a dermatologist, call the physician referral service at Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital at 800-681-2733.