Yes, You Need Sunscreen During Winter

Winter is in full swing, and by now you’ve likely shoved your tube of sunscreen to the farthest reaches of your medicine cabinet — and you’re not alone. One study[1] published in the Archives of Dermatology collected data from nearly 4,000 people engaging in winter sports and found that many assumed the cold temperatures and clouds would block harmful UV radiation and therefore, were less likely to consistently use sun protection. In another recent study[2], 40% of 418 Dutch adults reported skimping on sunscreen during their winter ski holiday.

Reference Lab

JAN 19, 2021

Experts, however, agree that sunscreen is an essential part of your everyday skincare routine, and the colder months are no exception. Here’s why: There are two types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation — ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). Exposure to both types are known to set in motion a long list of harms, from burns, age spots, and wrinkles (UV radiation is responsible for an estimated 90% of visible signs of aging!) to DNA damage, which can produce mutations. Over time, the latter increases your risk of skin cancer.[4]

UVA radiation is present year-round, penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB radiation, and can also penetrate clouds (and even glass). But while UVB radiation is more intense on hot, summer days, these harmful rays are also known to peek in on cold, overcast days and burn and damage skin. UVB are also believed to cause most skin cancers.[5] What’s more, UVB rays are especially potent on reflective surfaces, such as ice and snow, and at higher altitudes, think: ski slopes.[6]

OneFactFresh snow can reflect as much as 80% of the sun’s rays — exposing you to a double dose of UV radiation. In comparison, sea foam reflects about 25% of UV, and dry beach sand reflects about 15%.[7]

01How does sunscreen work to protect?

When those warming sun beams hit your face, they activate, in part, a healthy response. Your skin uses sunlight to create vitamin D, which promotes bone, immune, heart, brain, and nervous system health.[8] The downside of all that glorious sunshine is the potential damage to your skin cells, which accelerates aging.

Enter sunscreen. Sunscreen works as a filter, both blocking and absorbing UV radiation through a combination of inorganic and organic chemicals to lessen the sun’s impact on your skin. Inorganic ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, reflect UV radiation away from the skin, while complex organic ingredients, such as oxybenzone, react with radiation before it penetrates the skin, absorbing the radiation and releasing the energy as heat.[9] A sunscreen with both blocking and absorbing ingredients will combat both UVA and UVB radiation.

02Below the surface

At OneSkin, we believe healthy skin is protected skin. The lesson here is simple: UV radiation can damage your skin when you least expect it, so keep sunscreen handy and apply it year-round, paying extra attention to your face, ears, hands, and arms.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. And since winter conditions, like blustery winds, can wear away your sunscreen and lessen its effectiveness, reapply sunscreen every two hours if you plan on being outdoors for an extended period of time.

Finally, don’t rely on sunscreen alone. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV radiation, and a hat to prevent scalp burns. To get answers to your questions on sunscreen and sun safety, visit the American Academy of Dermatology’s FAQs.


Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

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