Protect Yourself: Sunscreen is Important in the Winter, Too!

Protect Yourself: Sunscreen is Important in the Winter, Too!
Protect Yourself: Sunscreen is Important in the Winter, Too!

We know that during our summer excursions to the beach, protecting ourselves from the sun is a must. (I mean, we all know that now, right???) But how many of us are considering the same in winter? I can assure you - not nearly enough, despite the fact that the risks of the sun never go away. In fact, there are some unique threats during the winter that most of us are completely unaware of!

“While sunscreen isn’t completely necessary on a cloudy winter day, the best strategy is to develop the routine of wearing it every day. For those of you who wear makeup, certain foundations have sunscreens built in. For those of you who don’t want to add another step to your daily routine, this is a great option because surprisingly, sunburn in the winter is very common, particularly on that sunny day after a snowfall, or after skiing,” says board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Arthur Perry In fact, skiing inflicts a triple whammy of damage on the skin. There’s the direct sun from the sky, the reflected sun off of the snow, and the extra UV radiation you get at the higher altitudes that comes with the territory.

Regardless of the overall temperature, the ionizing radiation emitted by the sun continues. “Transparent substances and thin clothing do nothing to prevent your skin from absorbing radiation. As such, use of a zinc- or titanium-based sunscreen is indicated year-round on poorly protected skin, especially in someone prone to burning,” says board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Alan Durkin.

The Impact of UV
UV radiation is always bad, and is cumulative throughout life. “Your skin always remembers that day on the beach when you were 16, and the wrinkles and skin cancers you develop at age 50 are related to your lifetime sun exposure. The reason UV can be worse in the winter is because your innate protection, your melanin, has largely faded by December,” says Dr. Perry.

Choosing the Right Sunscreen
It seems like a sure bet to pick up any old sunscreen at the drugstore – and in a pinch, that’s the way to go. But there’s absolutely some ways to go that are safer than others. “I strongly advocate physical sunscreen. The two that are available are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Zinc is the best because it blocks the broadest array of UV light and looks less white than titanium. Physical sunscreens stay on the surface of the skin and reflect UV light, while chemical sunscreens need to be absorbed into the body in order to block UV radiation. In fact, physical sunscreen stays in the body for up to 48 hours after a single application,” notes Dr. Perry. “Some chemical sunscreen act has endocrine disruptors. That’s a fancy word that means they interfere with the hormones in your body, and the hormone they most commonly interfere with is estrogen. There is evidence that these endocrine disruptors can contribute to breast and other cancers and can cause early menstruation in girls and low sperm counts in boys.” Zinc oxide and titanium don’t do that. Period.

Prettier Skin
Winter skin makes its appearance around Thanksgiving, as the temperatures and humidity drop. “Good quality moisturizers, such as those that contain ceramides, can help prevent or treat winter skin. This is when you should slather on moisturizers, particularly on the face and hands. Increasing the humidity in your house also helps, and the most natural way to do that is to fill your house up with plants,” says Dr. Perry.

The Right Foods
Certainly vitamin deficiencies, such as the B, C, and D vitamins, can contribute to poor-quality skin. But even if you eat a well-balanced diet, and perhaps take a multivitamin daily, it is hard to say if extra vitamins or foods can make your skin actually look better or decrease wrinkles. “One of the problems is that we just can’t study this well. How do we look at skin over decades in people who do or do not eat tomatoes, for instance? Hard to do. So, I advise a sensible diet with a wide variety of plants,” notes Dr. Perry.

As a super pale-skinned blonde, I’ve learned the importance of sun protection year-round the hard way. I’ve gotten burned in all seasons! Take care of your skin and it will continue to take care of you.

About the Author

Aly Walansky is a lifestyles writer with over a decade of experience covering beauty, health, and travel for various esteemed publications. Her blog, A Little Alytude ( was launched in 2006 and continues to be a strong voice in the lifestyles arena. Based in the ever-trendy Park Slope area of Brooklyn, she divides her time between her shih tsu Lily, her soap opera addiction, and scouting out fun new martini bars.