Protecting Yourself from Skin Cancer in the Winter

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • You check the temperature as you head out the door and notice that it is below freezing, again. You add several layers to your clothes to keep warm. The last thing on your mind is adding sunscreen to your morning routine. After all, there is snow on the ground. But protecting your skin from the sun is important during the winter months, too.


    Consider this:

    • UVA rays - those  responsible for premature aging and wrinkles are around all year round. This type of ray is thought to play a role in skin cancer.
    • The sun’s rays can bounce off snow and ice - up to 80 percent of the UV rays reflect up from snow - similar to the sun bouncing off water during the summer months.
    • Winter sports, such as skiing, provide a risk of sunburn and skin damage. Besides the sun reflecting off the snow’s surface, the higher the altitude, the greater the UV radiation.

    Sunscreen is important year round. You should apply sunscreen containing at least 30 SPF with the ability to block both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen should be applied at least 15 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours, more often if it is windy.

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    Besides sunscreen, the winter is a great time to take additional steps to protect yourself from skin cancer:


    Wear protective clothing. During the winter months, more of your skin is covered up with clothing and it is easy to forget the small areas that stay exposed. Make sure you wear a hat to protect your ears and head. Apply sunscreen on your hands or keep gloves on when outdoors. Use sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes.


    Make an appointment to have a skin cancer screening. In a previous post, Dr. Green suggested that those with a history of sun exposure, those who use or have used tanning beds, those with abnormal moles and those with a family history of skin cancer should have annual skin cancer screening. Many localities offer free skin cancer screenings during the month of May each year, but your dermatologist can complete an annual exam at any time. If you haven’t had a skin cancer screening, this is a great time to start.


    Add skin self-examinations into your monthly routine. In addition to having an annual skin cancer screening, you should be aware of any changes in your skin. You can do this by completing a skin self-check on a monthly basis.


    Learn what to look for. Skin cancer detection follows the ABCDE rules. Early detection of skin cancer is important and recognizing any changes and seeking treatment as soon as possible greatly increases your chances of a complete recovery.


    Use sunscreen on vacation. When taking a warm climate vacation, be sure to pack the sunscreen. It is easy to forego sunscreen, after all, “it is only a few days,” but just one sunburn increases your risk of developing skin cancer.


    UVA rays are thought to penetrate windows. Car windows may let in 60 percent of the sun’s rays. Apply sunscreen to your face even if you are in the car most of the day.


    No matter the weather - cold, cloudy, snowy, rainy - remember sunscreen is important. Taking a few extra minutes in the morning to protect your skin year round not only keeps you looking younger, it helps prevent skin cancer.

Published On: January 14, 2014