Even though summer has come to an end and winter is upon us, sunscreen use is just as important. Exposure to the sun during winter months can increase significantly for most Coloradans and put us at an even higher risk for skin cancer, especially for skiers and snowboarders. Colorado is known for its endless outdoor activities, higher elevation, and being one of the sunniest states in the country.
Why You Need Sunscreen in the Winter
When your skin is exposed to sun without protection, it is being introduced to two different ultraviolet (UV) rays, UVA and UVB. This is damaging to the superficial and the deep layers of your skin, congruently leading to skin cancer, wrinkles, and dark spots. The sun can significantly increase your risk for skin cancer during the winter months due to its pure intensity at higher altitude, especially as it reflects off the snow.
According to a research study completed by the Department of Dermatology at the New York University School of Medicine, for every 1,000 feet you gain in elevation above sea level, the intensity of the sun rays increases up to 10%. Therefore, the higher the altitude, the quicker a person can develop a sunburn.For example, an individual with an average complexion and without skin protection in Vail would burn after only six minutes of sun exposure on a clear day.
Research at Australasian College of Dermatologist has also shown that the time spent around areas where sun reflects off snow and ice is 200% more harmful UV exposure than being at the beach.
Dermatologist Recommendations for Sun Protection
Due to the increase in UV exposure in Colorado, especially at higher altitudes, we recommend finding a sunscreen that is at least 30 SPF or higher, water soluble, and contains zinc oxide.
Other ways to protect your skin include wearing a wide brim hat, using lip balm with SPF, and wearing clothing that has UV protection. It is important to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours since increased UV rays, sweat, wind, and snow can decrease its effectiveness.
Before you consider leaving your house, whether it is sunny, overcast, rainy, warm, or cold, be sure to add sunscreen to your routine. This will decrease your sun damage and, in return, decrease your risk for skin cancer. Melanoma, the worst skin cancer, is the fifth most diagnosed skin cancer for men in Colorado and the sixth for women.
Dry Winter Skin
In addition, winter months can bring on dry skin, which is unfortunately very common. The most common cause is the low humidity in Colorado which causes skin to lose water. Dry skin leads to additional symptoms such as itching, flaking, cracking, and discomfort. Avoiding hot showers, baths, and hot tubs is a suggested best practice. Focus on using mild cleansers and applying moisturizing creams or ointments that contain ingredients such as ceramides, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and urea. It is important to apply these emollients at their suggested intervals throughout the day.
Schedule Your Total Body Skin Exam TODAY
Finally, we encourage individuals to get yearly skin exams to help detect, prevent, and treat skin cancer. Most skin cancer is treatable if detected early. Protect yourself by scheduling a totally body skin exam at Vanguard Skin Specialists today. Call us 719-355-1585 to schedule.
A version of this article was printed in the Cañon City Daily Record. Click here to read.
Jelena Eddy is a Physician Assistant at Vanguard Skin Specialists inColorado Springs, Pueblo, and andCañon City and is a member of the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants (SDPA) and American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA).