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Sunscreen 365: It Isn’t Just for Summer

Focused on Health - December 2009

By Lam Le

The winter season is a time for fun outdoor activities that bring us to new heights. There is nothing like skiing, snowboarding, or sledding to burn calories and have a blast. Even if you aren’t hitting the slopes, winter is a great time for long outdoor walks, ice skating or playing in the snow. You may not know it, but all this extra winter activity calls for extra sun protection. 

Most people associate sun protection with hot summer days. But, summer isn’t the only time you need sunscreen.

“In some parts of the United States, the amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation we receive from the sun doesn’t drop significantly, even during winter months,” says Susan Chon, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at
M. D. Anderson. “The strength of the sun can be strong regardless of the season or temperature outdoors.”

Even if you don’t live in a place where it is likely to snow, don’t be fooled by lower temperatures. Cover exposed skin with sunscreen, just as you would in the summer.

Skimping on sunscreen is never a good idea

Have you ever thought about what could happen to your skin if you do skip sunscreen? Not only would your skin age faster, but the reality is that skin cancer might develop.

“UV radiation is most definitely linked to non-melanoma skin cancer,” Chon says.

The sun is responsible for most of the more than one million cases of non-melanoma skin cancers diagnosed yearly in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

While it’s easy to forget about skin cancer as you bundle-up to zip down the side of a mountain or take a crisp winter hike, taking just a few minutes to apply sunscreen before the fun begins is important.

“Applying sunscreen regularly decreases the number of sunburns you get,” Chon says. “This will reduce your skin cancer risks dramatically, even on the most blustery winter days.”

Don’t overlook the winter sun

While the sun warms our planet, it doles out mega doses of UV rays that are more intense and damaging at higher altitudes. Places with higher altitudes might include your favorite ski resort or mountain. The thinner atmosphere in these places doesn’t block as much of the sun’s UV rays as the atmosphere in your hometown. This can result in severe sunburn.

Snow also ups the sun’s power. It might be winter, but the sun reflects off the snow and bounces 80% of its rays back at you. The effect is similar to a typical day at the beach.

“You can find sunscreen products that are very convenient and easy to use while you’re on the go or on the slopes,” Chon says. “Sunscreen sticks allow you to apply sunscreen to your cheeks and face in quick swipes, almost like Chapstick® for your face. Sunscreen ‘brushes’ are another easy option that allows you to brush on a sun protective powder without removing your gloves when it’s cold.” 

It’s easy to enjoy the fun and health benefits that come with all of your winter adventures and protect yourself from skin cancer. Your skin will thank you for years to come.  

Related Links

Skin Cancer Prevention (M.D. Anderson)

Questions about Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection (American Cancer Society)

What You Need to Know about Skin Cancer (National Cancer Institute)

 

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Even if you aren’t hitting the slopes, the winter season is a great time for long outdoor walks, ice skating or playing in the snow. You may not know it, but all this extra winter activity calls for extra protection for your skin from the sun. Prevent skin cancer this winter season!

© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center