Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New Findings on UV in Winter: Keep That Sunscreen Handy


With summer a distant memory and fall giving way to the cold, darker days of winter, a lot of us put our sunscreen into storage, along with our shorts, sandals, and t-shirts.  But, even though the warmth of the sun may have gone on hiatus, some of its ultraviolet (UV) punch hasn't; this is especially so in the high, snow-covered mountains.

A recent Archives of Dermatology study of ski resorts in the western United States found that UV exposure could reach significant levels throughout the ski season (paper).  Elevation of these resorts plays a part in this - with every 1000 feet in elevation gain resulting in about a 5 percent rise in UV levels,  as does the snow itself, which can reflect about 50 - 80 percent of the direct UV from the sun.   The result is UV levels high enough to damage skin even while the mercury remains well below freezing. And with UV reflecting so effectively off of the white snow, skin we don't normally protect during the warmer months can be prone to burning during winter.

To protect yourself during those fun days in the mountains, do most of what you'd do during the warmer seasons. 
  • Apply an SPF 15+ sunscreen to skin that could be exposed during the day.  Remember, you remove layers as the temperature rises.
  • Use a lip balm  with SPF 15+ protection
  • Wear long sleeved tops, long pants, and hats that cover ears.
As spring starts to take hold, it's tempting to expose more skin, but the deeper into spring, the stronger the UV rays (and their reflection off the snow), so it's important to keep skin covered and/or protected.

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