Sunscreen in Winter – is it necessary?

 Contrary to popular belief, wearing sunscreen in Winter is not only necessary, but in many instances more necessary, than in Summer.  This is largely due to the fact that the suns’ UVA rays reach earth every day of the year, penetrating cloud cover and even penetrating glass. So, even if you are indoors or outdoors in overcast winter weather, the UVA rays have the power to be able to cause damage to your skin.

Approximately 5% of the solar light reaching the Earth consists of UV rays.  UVB rays, the fraction that causes sunburn, consists of just 4% of this light. The rest consists of the deeply penetrating UVA light rays. The UVC rays are filtered out by the atmosphere, (ref Diffey 2002) although there is debate on whether the ozone hole lets them through.




Depending on where you live in the world, the sun’s UV rays generally reach the earth at more of an angle during winter months than summer, making it colder. At the extreme, the Arctic or Antarctic are the coldest and in the centre, the equator only notices a slight difference between seasons.

No matter what time of year it is however, and what activities you engage in, the UVA rays tend to reach us and are responsible for causing permanent skin damage. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB, thereby causing loss of collagen and elasticity of the skin, which results in sagging and wrinkling. It also reaches the subcutaneous tissue and creates harmful free radicals when reacting with certain chemicals in the skin. ). Your skin is more likely to develop red crusted spots (actinic keratoses), which can turn into skin cancers. UVA damage occurs before any visible sunburn and is increasingly being recognized as the major contributor to UV related skin damage and aging.

Due to the fact that in winter most of us bundle up to keep warm, your face, ears and hands become the key parts to keep protected. Besides skin cancer, the sun dries the skin out and can cause premature aging, deep wrinkles, brown aging spots and skin rashes.

Also, the harm done to the skin by the sun compounds over the years. Each and every time your skin gets sun burnt, the chemical bonds of skin cells, including bonds in DNA, enzymes and proteins, are broken. (Ref Burren 1998; Kielbassa 1997; Kvam 1997; Wenczl 1998; young 1998) As time goes on, this deep skin damage becomes more permanent and worse, becomes irreversible.

Unfortunately, many ingredients used in sunscreens today provide good protection against UVB rays but have little or no protection against UVA rays. This leaves users completely vulnerable to UVA damage.  It also means that you are denied access to the UVB rays which provide your skin with the ability to create Vitamin D, which actually protects you against cancer.

However, an increasing awareness about UVA skin damage has resulted in many more sunscreens providing both UVA and UVB protection today than just a couple of years ago.

However, many people still do not realize that you cannot use the SPF rating of a sunscreen as a guide for the UVA protection it is providing. Good UVA protection is mostly provided through the use of physical sun blocks, chemical sunscreens or a combination of the two.

Besides good UVA and UVB protection, many good sunscreens provide additional qualities. They provide active cell protection in the form of anti-oxidants. These ingredients help protect the skin from damage caused by toxins supplied through atmospheric pollution and the wind, in addition to the sun. A good moisturizing sunscreen also helps to keep your skin hydrated and create a barrier between your skin and the elements.

If you plan to play in the snow this Winter, keep in mind that you face increased exposure to ultraviolet rays. Snow reflects about 80 percent of the ultraviolet light that hits it. Compounding the problem, for every 1,000 feet of elevation, ultraviolet exposure increases about 2 percent. So if you're out skiing, skating, mountain climbing or sledding, you need to be aware of the need for protection.

In conclusion, the absolute best anti-aging skincare treatment for skin is sunscreen. Using a quality sunscreen is a simple and effective way to prevent the sun damaging your skin. If you make sure you choose a sunscreen that contains high protection against the UVA rays and has additional beneficial ingredients without any toxic chemicals, by applying it everyday of the year, whether rain, snow or shine, you will be providing your skin with a wonderful treat.