Sunburns don’t just happen in the summertime, when the sun’s rays are strong and abundant—which is why you’re likely to put on sunblock
to protect your skin from UV ray damage and skin cancer.
However, just because winter may not have as many days of sunlight and we may feel the strength of the rays to be weaker on those occasions where the sun does come out, our perception is misguided, as those rays can still affect the skin.
So, despite more cloudy, foggy days with little-to-no sunshine, and evenings where the sun sets sooner and it can become dark really quick, you can get burned through the clouds and raise your risk of skin cancer, as well as more visible signs of aging your skin, without proper application upon going outdoors.
Should you wear sunscreen in winter?
Clouds only really block about 20 percent of UV light. Remember, ultraviolet light is invisible. And sunlight is made up of both UV light and visible light. Even though the visible light may be blocked by clouds, the UV light is still coming through.
“Some of the worst sunburns I have seen have occurred on cloudy days and this was simply a result of the fact that we get a false sense of security from the darker skies or cooler temperatures, which lead to the false assumption
that we don’t need to be as careful with sunscreen on these days,” says board-certified dermatologist Erum N. Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD, and CEO & Founder of AmberNoon
. This is not true though, and skin needs protection no matter the season.
“Although remembering to wear sunscreen on exposed areas is essential, also realize that some winter clothing items may be ‘porous,’ allowing UV light through so if you are wearing layers, this is less likely an issue, however, a loosely knit wool sweater may provide warmth, but it may not protect against UV light if the yarn is loosely pulled together,” she explains. Large gaps in materials or cut-outs can also cause more exposure to UV rays.
Plus, some activities definitely call for SPF, like skiing, so definitely bring SPF with you for any winter trips on the mountain. Fresh snow can reflect and magnify UV, and it can be as much as double your UV exposure naturally.
Where and when to apply SPF in the winter
Apart from the face, there are other areas to stay on top of
, and you should get into the routine of applying sunscreen daily to the areas that could be exposed to UV damage that day. Applying sunscreen to all exposed areas or potentially exposed areas of the body is best, and definitely the face. Plus, per Dr. Ilyas’ tip, apply sunscreen before getting dressed, as you’ll not only make sure you’re not missing any areas of the skin, but also you can avoid any potential mess on your clothing too.
Lastly, don’t forget about your lips, which can also get burned from UV light. “In adults with a lot of sun damage over the years, it’s not uncommon to have patients come in concerned about ‘chapped lips’ that may be in one spot or along the entire lower lip year-round,” says Dr. Ilyas. This can be the sign of precancerous changes to the lip called actinic cheilitis, so it’s important to consider the risk associated with sun damage to the texture and appearance of the lips, too.
Plus, for days where you need extra protection, such as on the slopes when skiing, wear UV protective clothing for that further UV-blocking boost. If you participate in outdoor winter sports or spend a significant amount of time outdoors and in colder climates, zinc-based sunscreens are best.
What to look for in SPF for the winter
Wearing zinc or titanium-based sunscreens will block UV exposure, so they’re the best kinds of SPF to wear in the winter. Reapplying is essential
, since you’ll need to get another layer of protection once the first starts to wear off. There are two types of sunblocks
to choose from: physical and chemical sunscreens, with one being stronger than the other.
Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing light and once the sunscreen maxes out its ability to absorb light, the rest flows over to your skin. Ilyas’ suggests imagining this as a cup on your skin: It’s filled with ultraviolet light (UV), but once the cup fills, the rest of the UV overflows to your skin. This is why you may have worn a ton of sunscreen and
reapplied but still got sunburned. So, they’re not as effective as physical sunblocks are, the latter containing zinc or titanium to block UV by shielding the skin directly, thus making them better at maximizing protection.
Top 8 SPFs to use in the winter
If you are prone to redness and are extra careful with product use due to more sensitive skin, Ilyas’ recommendation is perfect for you. “One of my favorite brands to recommend for people with sensitive skin is this lip protectant, which is also gluten-free, so it’s a good option for my patients with gluten sensitivities,” she says. Read labels, as it can be a big issue if you use a lip product with gluten and have an intolerance, allergy or sensitivity to gluten (which can be in many lip balms, too.)
A popular pick with a universal stamp of approval from dermatologists, CeraVe offers lovely moisturizers, lotions and creams to hydrate the skin. This face cream is lightweight and non-greasy to provide both comfort and protection in the day. You should apply and reapply every two hours or so for the best results. If you don’t want 50, there’s an SPF 30 option
Another option for sensitive skin and with the added boost of hydration and moisturizing effects, Eucerin’s daily SPF face lotion is an expert backed sunscreen for the winter. Since it moisturizes the skin while blocking UV exposure, it’ll help you take care of winter’s dry and flaky skin
Another solid lotion with SPF is Neutrogena’s “break-free” formula, especially for those with acne or who tend to get flare-ups during times of stress or that time of the month. Oil and fragrance free, as well as non-comedogenic (meaning it won't clog pores), it’s an expert approved daily lotion containing SPF to protect the face from sun damage while also simultaneously fighting breakouts and keeping skin clean and fresh.
While you’ll want extra SPF to go along with this foundation, as SPF 15 isn’t much, every bit helps on the face and getting in SPF as a bonus through makeup never hurts. Pick a shade you like and then apply as you would normally. Yet, you may want to rub on a moisturizer with SPF first or find another source of SPF for that additional layer.
Sun Bum has both SPF 30 and SPF 50 options to choose from, and the lotion even contains vitamin E, which promotes anti-aging and more soft, smooth and healthy skin. It’s gluten-free and vegan, and it’s water-resistant for 80 minutes.
“One of my favorite recommendations for people who are active outdoors, year-round, is the Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Stick for its zinc and glide-on feature,” says Ilyas. It’s simple to pull out, wipe across the nose, temples, cheeks and forehead, for ease of sunscreen application.
Ilyas suggests using this on the hands, as well as any other exposed body parts. CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen Body SPF 50 is lightweight and easy to apply and with zinc and titanium as its active ingredients, it rubs in easily and provides mineral sunscreen protection.