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Why You Still Need to Worry About Skin Cancer in the Winter

Posted on: December 23rd, 2021 by Dr. Christopher Crosby

Many people toss aside their sunscreen when sweater-weather arrives in the fall and winter months, but this time of year is just as harmful (if not more so) than the summer sun. Cool and cloudy days and changing seasons don’t make the sun’s rays less dangerous. That fireball in the sky sends down UV rays whether it’s rainy, sunny or snowy. Our dermatologists recommend wearing 30 SPF or higher sunscreen year-round. 

Winter May be More Dangerous for Your Skin

There are two forms of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. UVA rays cause the skin to tan, develop dark spots and wrinkles. The sun can penetrate through clouds and fog no matter the season. UVA can reach through glass, which is why you can experience skin damage indoors on a bright day in a room with large windows. 

UVB rays are strongest in the summer and are the reason behind painful sunburns. UVB is amplified by clouds and reflective surfaces (such as snow and ice in the winter). This cloud enhancement effect makes winter a dangerous time for your skin. The snow can redirect as much as 80% of UVB rays, exposing your skin to the harmful light twice and increasing skin cancer and premature aging risks. 

Winter sun damage is a big concern for those who snowboard or ski. Earth’s atmosphere blocks some harmful UV light, but the thinner atmosphere at higher altitudes means skiers and snowboarders are subjected to more intense sun rays. These wintertime activities coupled with less vigilance with sunscreen increase your skin cancer risk. 

How to Protect Your Skin in the Winter 

UV radiation is the primary cause of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. These cancers are preventable, though. You can lower your risk of skin cancer and premature aging by continuing to protect your skin in the overcast, cold winter months. Our dermatologists have these tips: 

  • Use water-resistant sunscreen with a broad-spectrum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
  • Apply your sunscreen to all exposed skin 30 minutes before going outside. 
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours and right away after sweating or swimming. 
  • Protect sensitive areas such as the ears, hands, face or scalp. 
  • Cover exposed skin with clothing where applicable. 
  • Wear sunglasses that block UV light. 
  • Stay out of the sun during peak hours (typically 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) 
  • Stay in the shade when you can. 
  • Consider SPF sun protective clothing.

If you have skin concerns, contact Grossmont Dermatology Medical Clinic and Skin Cancer Treatment Center to schedule your consultation with one of our experienced dermatologists. 

Coastal Skin & Eye Institute/Grossmont Dermatology