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Why Wintertime Sun Protection Matters

Why Wintertime Sun Protection Matters

We don’t get much severe winter weather in Texas, but last February proved that anything is possible. No matter what kind of weather comes our way this year, it’s important to remember that your skin needs just as much protection from the sun in winter as it does in the summer. 

At Lakeview Dermatology in Lake Worth, Texas, Dr. Matthew Mittelbronn and his team see the effects of wintertime sun damage all the time. Here’s why it’s so important to keep your guard up and practice good sun protection even when it’s not so hot outdoors.

Clouds don’t protect you from the sun

Overcast days trick many people into believing they’re safe from the sun’s harmful rays. But just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. To understand this, you need to understand the two types of UV rays that affect your skin.

Ultraviolet B

UVB rays are the rays we are most familiar with and the main ones that SPF represents protection from.  These rays are responsible for sunburns and are the largest cause of the DNA damage in skin cells leading to skin cancer.  They are most powerful on bright sunny days and, while their levels do decrease in colder cloudy months, they are still present in significant amounts.

Ultraviolet A

UVA rays had historically been less discussed than UVB, however their importance in skin damage and skin cancer has become more widely discussed over the last few decades.  These rays are the other major contributor to skin cancer and, although they do not cause sunburns, they penetrate deeper than UVB and are the main cause of aging your skin.  Importantly, these rays can penetrate clouds and are just as strong during winter as in summertime.

The bottom line is that the sun can do serious damage even when the weather is overcast and gloomy, so you need to maintain your sunscreen application and other sun protection habits all year long.

Sunlight creeps indoors

Think you’re exempt from sun damage just because you work indoors all day? Think again. If you sit near a window, the sunlight that enters the room enters your skin as well. Although glass blocks UVB rays from getting through, it can’t stop the UVA rays. And over time, the damage this does can really add up in terms of your skin cancer risk.  Keep this in mind not only at work, but during your commute and as you travel. Harmful UVA rays seep through all unprotected glass, including windows of planes, trains, and automobiles.

Gaps in protection age you faster

If you take a winter break from sun protection, you not only put your skin at considerable risk for cancer, but you also add to premature aging of your skin. Excess sun exposure causes photoaging, the process in which UVA rays damage the elastin and collagen in your skin. These two proteins are essential for the structure and resilience of your skin and when UV rays damage these, it results in wrinkles, sagging, pigment changes, and leathery skin.

Winter sports can be just as risky as summer sports

Here in Lake Worth, Texas, we’re not much above sea level, but if you like to spend your winters on the ski slopes, you should know that the sun’s rays reach you much faster and are more intense. 

Studies show that the direct UVB rays are 60% higher in the mountains than they are at the beach. This is due to both less ozone protection during cold winter months and at higher altitudes. Additionally, the sun reflects off the snow and ice, so it hits you even harder and from every direction.  Whether you ski, snowboard, or just vacation in higher altitudes, you need to remain vigilant about continuing your sun protection.

Sunscreen wears off faster in the winter

During the hot Texas summers, the humidity and sweat seem to melt your sunscreen off quickly, so it might surprise you to learn that the harsh winter air can deteriorate your protection just as much. Cold temperatures, snow, ice and wind all make sunscreen less effective, so you need to re-apply just as often as in summertime.

How to protect your skin this winter

The best way to protect your skin this winter is to follow all the same rules you follow in the summer, keeping in mind that the rules don’t really change much just because it’s cold and cloudy. 

All these reasons are why it’s a good idea to always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily, even in winter.  Broad spectrum means that the sunscreen protects against both UVB and UVA.  We recommend you use at least an SPF 15, but prefer an SPF 30 or greater whenever possible.  Remember this includes even indoors or commuting - especially if you spend a lot of time near a window.  A few brands we love are the Anthelios line from La Roche-Posay, Elta MD, and Neutrogena, however, as Dr Mittelbronn always says: “the best brand or type of sunscreen is the one you actually use!

No matter the season, keep in mind that UV exposure is cumulative throughout your lifetime and, the more UV rays you are exposed to, the greater your risk of skin cancer.  That’s why we recommend that you come into Lakeview Dermatology for regular skin screenings, during which Dr. Mittelbronn will expertly examine your skin head to toe to check for any suspicious skin spots. 

The good news is that skin cancer survival rates are excellent with early detection and treatment, and Dr. Mittelbronn and his team at Lakeview Dermatology will make sure you get the best treatment possible for your individual situation.       

To learn more about how to protect your skin all year long, or to schedule an appointment for a skin screening, call us today at 817-369-8098.

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