Yes, You Still Need To Wear Sunscreen In The Winter. Here's Why

Summertime is when ultraviolet radiation levels are at their highest, and extended sun exposure can cause long-lasting skin problems, ranging from a poor skin appearance to skin cancer. Wearing sunscreen is the only way to stay safe under the harmful glare of the sun. Daily use of a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 and over can cut your risk of major skin cancer types such as melanoma by half, and your risk of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) by approximately 40%, The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) points out. Besides, religiously wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen before heading out also prevents the sun from breaking down collagen in your body, reducing risks of sun-induced premature aging such as wrinkles, saggy skin, and hyperpigmentation, explains Johns Hopkins Medicine.

In the hotter months when the sun is unforgivingly searing and it's easy to get a visible sunburn, it's not difficult to convince people to wear sunscreen. However, during colder months – when UV levels are less intense and the burning effect of the sun on the skin is barely palpable — most people believe that daily use of sunscreen is a waste of time and money. Well — that can't be any further from the truth. Even in the depths of winter, it's wise to put on sunscreen. Here's why.

The sun can still inflict damage during winter

According to dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Hale, we shouldn't look at snow cover or sun strength as the barometer of whether or not we should wear sunscreen. While it's true that UV rays aren't as prevalent in winter as they are in summer, UVA rays — which make up 95% of sunlight all year round — can still penetrate deeply into the skin, causing both skin cancer and premature aging, Dr. Hale tells The Cut. UVB rays — which make up the remaining 5% — can also still damage the outer layer of the skin.

Another interesting fact about the reach of the sun is that the levels of UV rays increase at higher altitudes, Hamilton Health Sciences points out. UV levels rise by roughly 10% for every 1,000 meters of elevation gain— all the more reason to wear sunscreen as you're skiing down a narrow piste. Besides, since snow reflects UV rays, it can amplify the sunlight and double your UV exposure to match with the UV index levels during summertime.

So what about rainy days? An argument that we often hear is that sunshine usually hides behind the clouds on rainy days, therefore it cannot come down and hurt our skin. In response to this, Re'equil points out that the rain and the clouds can by no means block out UVA rays, which can break through the clouds and reach the ground. Hence, it's important to wear sunscreen rain or shine.

How to sun-protect your skin in winter

To protect your skin during winter, University of Utah Health suggests applying and reapplying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 50 when you're outdoors. At the same time, coat your lips with a lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect them from damaging UV rays. Using a moisturizer with a high SPF rating is also an effective way to keep your skin hydrated and protected from UV rays in the frosty weather.

If you're engaging in outdoor activities in cold weather, bundle up in sun-protective clothes. For instance, look for articles of clothing bearing an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) tag or those made of densely woven cloth like canvas, wool, denim, or synthetic fibers. Color-wise, the Cancer Council recommends darker hues — such as black, dark blue, or dark red — as they are able to absorb UV rays and prevent them from penetrating your skin. To shield your eyes from sun damage, it's crucial to pop some sunglasses or snow goggles on when you're outdoors. The reason being is UV rays can also cause harm to the structures of your eye, resulting in cataracts, macular degeneration, and corneal damage, explains the Cleveland Clinic. If possible, always seek out shade from sunlight to minimize the impact of UV rays on your skin.