Even in Winter - Reconsidering Your Sunscreen

November 13, 2022

man with ski goggles and white sunscreen on lips

The sun doesn’t stop shining in winter and many of us get out to enjoy the beauty of a white wonderland by skiing, skating, snowshoeing, walking and cross-country skiing.  We should always remember that the sun’s rays are still very intense even when it’s cold and the snow can reflect UV rays and cause very significant skin damage. Sunscreen in the winter is an important topic to consider.

With thousands of brands to choose from, making a good selection is actually a very complicated process.  Reports of toxic cancer-causing chemicals in sunscreens have people rethinking their sun protection choices, and considering a return to mineral based sunscreens.

But when most people think of mineral sunscreens they remember the “good old days” when all the lifeguards had their noses covered with white zinc oxide paste. Surely, we don’t have to go back to that look do we?

Fortunately, sunscreen manufacturers have reformulated and refined their mineral based sunscreens so you won’t look like you just stepped out of a 70’s beach movie. Modern formulations are made with micronized minerals, so instead of a thick and opaque white paste, these new products actually go on your skin clear. Some are tinted as well, so you can actually use less makeup or concealer to get the same effect.

Speaking of makeup, regular chemical sunscreens need to be reapplied every two to four hours, so if you are at work and want to be outside over your lunch break, a mineral sunscreen compact or powder can be applied right over your makeup without ruining your look.

Because many chemical sunscreens need to be applied for at least 20 minutes prior to being needed, you’ll either need to stay inside to give them time to work or risk doing sun damage to your skin if you rush outside after application. Mineral sunscreens don’t have this limitation, because they work by physically blocking the sun’s rays from your skin and don’t depend on being absorbed. Plus, because mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin instead of being absorbed into it, they are much less likely to cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis.

Chemical sunscreens protect your skin against UVB radiation from the sun. This is the wavelength that causes painful sunburns. Mineral sunscreens also protect you from UVB but have the added advantage of protecting you against UVA radiation as well. This wavelength is able to penetrate clouds and haze and even sunglasses and is responsible for photo-aging, resulting in wrinkles and sun or age spots. 

So how do you go about choosing the best mineral sunscreen for you? And what other measures should you be taking besides using sunscreen to make sure you are getting the most protection possible?

Sun damage is cumulative, meaning it builds up over time, so you should use sunscreen everyday. Choose a product that protects against both UVB and UVA radiation with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30. Look for a product that says it provides “full spectrum” or “broad spectrum” protection. Don’t forget to protect your lips and use a lipstick or lip balm with an SFP of at least 30.

The sun’s rays are at their most intense between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm, so limit your sun exposure during these times. Rely on your local weather app to give you the sun’s UV index number. If the index is 10 or higher, you should try to stay out of the sun during those times.

Your sunglasses should have 99% to 100% UV absorption. The sun can cause cataracts and you can also get melanoma (an aggressive skin cancer) in the back of the eye from too much exposure. As tempting as it is for some people, tanning beds and yes, all recreational sunbathing should be completely avoided. If you have to be out in full sun with no shade in sight, wear sunglasses and protective clothing that includes pants and long sleeves, plus a wide brimmed hat that will protect your face, neck and ears. In addition, consume foods that give you added natural protection from the sun.



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