The importance of remembering sun exposure harms in the wintertime

By Selma Al-Samarrai

March 14, 2019 – Wintertime routines can be complicated as they include picking out multiple layers depending on how cold it is, deciding on shoes versus snow boots, and strategizing on how to tackle the extra-long and sometimes treacherous commute.

What most people don’t realize is that sun protection should be another part of their routine.

“There still is a risk of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation in the winter, just like in the summer,” said Dr. Erin Dahlke, a dermatologist at St. Joseph’s Health Centre.

“It’s important to protect your skin from the sun in the winter because year-round UV light is absolutely there and ultraviolet radiation causes DNA mutations that lead to premature aging and skin cancer.”

Misconceptions around not needing sunscreen in the winter include thinking that overcast days don’t require protection.

“It’s actually very common for people to get sunburnt on overcast days — it doesn’t seem sunny, they forget to cover up and stay out longer — but the UV radiation is still there,” explained Dr. Dahlke.

While bundling up does offer more sun protection and somewhat reduces the need for sunscreen, our faces need protecting.

Just like when on the beach or a golf course in the summer, Dr. Dahlke said re-application is key when spending long periods of time outdoors.

“If you’re out snowboarding all day, you’re getting a lot of sunlight both directly and indirectly through the snow reflecting light, and you definitely need extra sun protection,” said Dr. Dahlke, adding that walking through snowy, rainy or windy conditions in the wintertime can remove sunscreen, similar to swimming or sweating in the heat.

Dr. Dahlke strongly advises thinking about sun exposure year-round.

“Sun protection should still be a vital component of everyone’s routine. The pillars for sun protection are protective clothing, which is of course easier in the winter, a hat which is just as important in the winter as in the summer, and sunscreen for the parts of your skin that are exposed – at least SPF30 and broad spectrum (UVA/UVB),” she said.