Can we Skip the Sunscreen in the Winter? A Dermatologist Answers Our Questions

Merely Me Health Guide
  • Winter is officially here. The days are shorter. The sun’s rays are not as strong. So can we skip using our sunscreen? Dr. Lawrence Green, a practicing dermatologist in Maryland, answers our questions about protecting our skin and preventing skin cancer during the winter season.

     

    To find out more about Dr. Green please visit his website: Aesthetics, Skin Care, and Dermasurgery.

    Q: Do we have to worry about protecting our skin during the winter months? Can we skip the sunscreen for example?

     

    Dr. Green: Although the sun is not as strong during the winter months in northern climates, you can still obtain damage to your skin without daily protection. So, in the winter months in colder, northern climates, I would recommend an SPF of 15 or higher (and broad spectrum UVA protection as well) for your sunscreen. But, in the summer, everyone needs at least a daily SPF of 30 or more (and broad spectrum UVA protection as well).

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    For more information on using sunscreen during the winter months please read these Health Central articles:

     

    Even Winter Sun Requires Sunscreen

     

    Five Tips for Winter Skin Cancer Prevention

     

    Q: Are there special situations during the winter season when we have to be more vigilant about using sunscreen (such as going to a ski resort where the sun reflects off the snow?)

     

    Dr. Green: You should always apply a daily moisturizer with sunscreen, all year round as a matter of habit. However, during the winter when skiing at higher altitudes, you should apply sunscreen on exposed areas like you would at the beach or pool (or when you are outside for an extended period of time) during the summer. This will protect exposed skin from the stronger sun present at higher altitudes (and that reflects off the snow too).

     

    For more information about protecting your skin while sledding or skiing please refer to these Health Central articles:

     

    Are you Winter-Sun Savvy?

     

    Skin Cancer Prevention Tips for Winter

     

    Q: For those who are going to warmer climates for a winter vacation is it wise to get a "base tan" to prevent burning?

     

    Dr. Green: It is never a good idea to get a "base tan." Any tan is a sign you have caused DNA mutations to occur in your skin. The more cumulative DNA mutations you get, the more wrinkles, and chance of getting skin cancer you have. So, every "base tan" can lead to problems later on in life. Sunburns are the same in leading to DNA mutations, wrinkles and possible skin cancer as a base tan. So, the best advice I can give is to always wear clothing as much as you can to protect your skin, or apply a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher to exposed skin every few hours when in the sun.

     

    Also, when at the beach or pool, try and limit your time in direct sun as much possible (use umbrellas, etc).

     

    For more information about the reasons why getting a base tan is bad news for your skin please read: Does Getting a Base Tan from a Tanning Bed Protect Your Skin from Sun Damage?

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    Q: Do you have any special tips for preventing skin cancer during the winter months?

     

    Dr. Green: I think it is always wise to just make a habit of using a daily moisturizer with a broad spectrum sunscreen all year round, whether winter or summer. Making this a habit will help prevent accidentally getting sunburned when you get in a sunny situation you didn't expect to happen.

     

    Additional posts on keeping your skin healthy during the winter season may be found here:

     

    Deflecting Winter’s Dry Skin

     

    Think Twice Before Going to the Tanning Bed this Winter 

     

    Top Ten Winter Skin Tips

Published On: December 31, 2011