Yes, You Need to Wear Sunscreen in The Winter—Here’s Why
A little added incentive for stocking up on SPF, no matter how cold it gets.
For most people, slathering on the SPF before heading outside is an activity that takes place only during the spring and summer’s sunny days—if at all. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, just 14.3 percent of men and 29.9 percent of women use sunscreen on a regular basis, even during the year’s hotter months.
But just because you’re more likely to find yourself the victim of a painful burn in the summertime doesn’t mean that it’s safe to skip the SPF when fall and winter roll around. Even on the gloomiest winter days, the sun’s ultraviolet rays are still penetrating our skin—the only difference as the seasons shift is which rays are getting through.
“During the winter months, the UVB rays that cause burns are decreased, but the UVA rays that cause wrinkles and aging are not,” explains Amy Strohmaier PA-C, a dermatology physician assistant at Suncoast Skin Solutions in Florida. “Although UVB rays are more dangerous, UVA rays also contribute to the development of skin cancer.”
And while you might assume that cloud cover or snowfall means fewer rays are getting through, the precipitation common during winter months only makes it more important to wear sunscreen. According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center, snow is able to reflect anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of sunlight back into the atmosphere—and while this is good for keeping the planet cool, it’s not ideal for maintaining healthy skin.
“Light bounces off of snow and will increase the amount of rays hitting your skin, causing even more damage in frigid temperatures,” says Strohmaier.
So while you’re very unlikely to experience a sunburn while walking through a winter wonderland, you still need to wear sunscreen in the winter in order to avoid the skin-harming side effects of long-term exposure to UVA rays. “The effects of UV light are cumulative,” says Strohmaier, “so we need to limit the exposure to rays as often as possible.”
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