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Protect Your Skin in Colder Months

CancerWise - January 2007

By Dawn Dorsey

Just because it’s cold or cloudy, don’t get lulled into the false security of thinking you can ignore protecting your skin against the sun.

Even on cloudy days, when you may assume you’re at less risk, harmful ultraviolet rays filter through the clouds. If you’re outside, it’s impossible to totally avoid the sun’s ultraviolet rays on exposed areas of skin.

Hit the slopes – smartly

The northern hemisphere points away from the sun in the winter, and most of the weaker ultraviolet rays are blocked by the atmosphere.

In higher elevations, however, there is greater risk for sunburn because there is less atmosphere to block the sun’s rays. Add to that the fact that snow reflects up to 80% of the sun’s rays, and you have a potentially dangerous situation. Even though it may feel cold, you can burn quickly.

Remember to:

  • Cover up with a long-sleeved jacket, hat and gloves
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses or goggles
  • Be sure sunglasses or goggles offer 100% UV protection
  • Pay close attention to the underside of chin and ears
  • Wear sun block such as zinc oxide on exposed and sun-sensitive areas

Stay safe on the seashore

If your winter includes a respite in a sunny climate:

  • Remember to pack sunscreen
  • Use waterproof sunscreen if you scuba dive or swim
  • Reapply often if you scuba dive or swim
  • Forgo visiting the tanning salon before hitting the beach
    • A tan from a tanning booth won’t protect you from sun exposure
    • Tanning booths produce UV rays

Keep up your good habits

The American Academy of Dermatology and American Cancer Society suggest these year-round tips:

  • Wear a full-spectrum sunscreen that:
    • Blocks both UVA and UVB rays
    • Has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15
  • Avoid peak sun hours of 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Use sunscreen every day you will be in sun more than 20 minutes
  • Apply sunscreens to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors
  • Pay extra attention to face, ears, hands and arms when applying sunscreen
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming or activity
  • Keep infants in the shade and covered with clothing

MD Anderson resources:

Other resources:


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center