Winter sun can hurt your skin

Many people believe that sun protection is only necessary during the summer.  This is a myth that can have dire and dangerous consequences for your skin. Just because it is winter and cold outside is no reason to relax your sun protection.

It is true that in northern latitudes during the winter there is insufficient sunlight to stimulate vitamin D production by our bodies. This is why people who live in northern latitudes should include vitamin D supplements as part of their daily diet during the winter (See our article on vitamin D deficiency). However, although the intensity of the sun’s rays can change depending on the time of year, the skin is exposed to harmful UV rays during any time spent in the sun, regardless of the outside temperature. This is also true when it is overcast or cloudy. This means you should continue with an adequate sun protection regime all year round.

Extra sun care precautions should also be taken during winter sports and outside activities.

Snow reflects UV rays and increases the chance of sunburn in the same way that water does at the beach and swimming pool. Skiing in winter also requires the same sun care precautions as a day at the beach in summer. The air is thinner at higher altitudes and harmful rays are more intense because they can pass through the atmosphere more easily.

Knowing and following a proper sun protection routine is especially important for those with skin diseases and conditions. This is made more complicated because some skin diseases need more protection while others can benefit from some sun exposure. Even people with the same type of skin disease might have different reactions to sun exposure. For example, many people with eczema see a definite improvement following sun exposure, while others can experience a worsening. Like all eczema symptoms, it varies by individual and the type of eczema.

Children in particular should be given a proper daily sun protection regime. It is never too early to teach children how to protect themselves when out in the sun. With proper precautions and by developing proper habits early in life, parents can greatly reduce a child’s risk of serious skin damage and their chance of developing skin cancer throughout their lifetime. Proper sun protection should begin with infancy as babies have thinner skin that burns faster and is more easily damaged.

Here are some sun smart tips to help you safely enjoy every day out.

  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, and one that provides broad-spectrum coverage that protects against both UVA and UVB rays
  • If you have a skin condition, like eczema, which can be triggered or aggravated by sunscreen check the label for ingredients
  • Sunscreens need to be applied liberally and evenly over all exposed areas
  • Apply sunscreen at least 20-30 minutes before going out in the sun
  • Reapply often, at least every 2 hours that you remain outside
  • Wear clothing that is dark and tightly woven
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses
  • Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm, under umbrellas, trees, canopies or indoors

Remember, you must stick to your routine. Sun exposure damage accumulates over a lifetime.  Damage often occurs as a result of unprotected day-to-day activities, and not just during longer periods in the sun.

Written by Kofi Dwinfour

 

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The prevalence of skin disease exceeds that of obesity, hypertension, or cancer. Despite skin being the largest organ of the human body, dermatological research remains one of the most under funded areas of medicine. In a world where society has an increasing preoccupation with image and it’s importance to every aspect of a person’s life, sufferers of skin diseases are feeling and being more marginalised and isolated than ever.

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