Do You Really Need to Wear Sunscreen Every Day in the Winter?
by Sarah Klein for Health
It doesn’t take much for me to get a sunburn. I learned this early on, and not just from regular trips to the local pool or long days at summer soccer camp: I once needed to apply aloe vera after an hour shoveling snow—snow!—with my father. Don’t get me wrong, I still grumble about wearing sunscreen—but I always do anyway.
People who have less-sensitive complexions are often surprised to hear about my winter sunburns (yep, there’s been more than one). Many of them have told me they ditch SPF when the days become shorter, darker, and colder. Which is why I thought it might be helpful to have a professional remind them that wearing sunscreen is a must every day of the year, even in the middle of December.
“Skin damage is like a meter in a taxi cab,” says Darrell Rigel, MD, an American Academy of Dermatology board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at New York University. “The meter only goes forward, and the more you drive and the faster you drive, the faster the meter goes.”
In other words, ultra-violet rays from the sun can still damage skin after summer is over, but depending on where you are, you may accumulate more or less UV damage during that time. “South Florida is different than Minnesota, or skiing at altitude in Colorado,” Dr. Rigel notes. I shouldn’t have to remind you that if you’re sunbathing by the pool in Florida this winter, you should be wearing as much sunscreen as you would in summer. (Also, take me with you.)
But if you’re bundled up in frigid Minnesota with only your eyes exposed, you can probably get away with a lower SPF than you did in July, Dr. Rigel says. That’s because there’s a sizable seasonal drop in how much UVB reaches us during the winter months; SPF is actually just a measure of how much your tube protects you from UVB rays, he explains. There’s a much smaller seasonal drop in UVA, however—and UVA also passes through glass. While those rays may not burn you, they can still cause skin damage (think dark spots), even if you’re the type of snow bunny who would rather look out the window at the white stuff than traipse through it.
So what should you use to protect skin in winter? A moisturizer with SPF should do the trick, Dr. Rigel says, since it will also protect against seasonal skin issues like dryness and flaking. “In the summer, you wouldn’t want as much of a moisturizer with your sunscreen because you’re naturally producing more oil,” he explains.