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Why you need sun protection in the winter

As you bundle up from head to toe to stay warm in the winter cold, you may be tempted to set the sunscreen aside, but experts say sun protection shouldn’t be reserved for warmer months.

"On a crisp winter morning run, remember that even if the sky looks clear, that also means there’s UV radiation penetrating down," warns board-certified dermatologist Seemal R. Desai, MD, FAAD, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center who also maintains a private practice in Plano, Texas. "Risk of sunburn can also increase when engaging in popular winter activities where one is exposed to higher altitudes and additional UV light reflects from surfaces, such as snow for skiers and snowboarders," he adds.

Cold-weather sun protection

You can protect your skin year-round by seeking shade, wearing sun-protective clothing, and applying sunscreen to all skin not covered by clothing.

Photo for cold weather sun protection article

When choosing a sunscreen, Dr. Desai recommends using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant product with an SPF of 30 or higher, applied at least 15 minutes before potential exposure, and reapplied at least every two hours or after swimming or sweating. "Don’t overlook the ears, nose, lips, back of neck, and tops of the hands and feet."

For additional coverage, Dr. Desai suggests looking into sun-protective clothing and accessory options, ideally designed with sun protection in the material itself. "This includes wide-brimmed hats for the head. Sunburns on the scalp are common." Other clothing options to guard your skin from the sun are long-sleeved shirts, pants, and sunglasses with UV protection. Look for an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) label for added protection.

Dr. Desai also says that these measures should be taken no matter an individual’s skin type and tone. "This is especially important for those with a personal or family history of skin cancer."

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Last updated: 5/25/21