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Eight ways to protect your skin from the winter sun

GEHA | February 28, 2023

Don’t be fooled by cloudy skies and cold weather – the sun’s rays are more harmful in the winter.

“Don’t forget the sunscreen!”

This cry is commonly heard in the summer, when running out the door to join friends for a day of fun outdoors. But surprisingly the sun’s rays are more harmful in the winter.

This is because when there is snow on the ground, the sun’s damaging rays are actually hitting you twice. Once on the way down, then again as it reflects off the snow. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, snow reflects up to 80% of ultraviolet, or UV, light.

While the sun is tougher to ignore on a hot, bright day, your skin is still vulnerable on colder, cloudy days as well. Here are five ways to protect your skin in the winter.

  1. Wear sunscreen. For everyday outdoor activities, get a sunscreen that’s SPF 30 or higher, water-resistant and contains broad-spectrum coverage. This means the sunscreen will guard against both UVA and UVB rays.
  2. If you are participating in high-altitude activities, such as snowboarding or skiing, pick a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or more. The thinner atmosphere intensifies the sunlight.
  3. Cover bare skin with sunscreen before going outside. It takes 15 minutes for skin to take in the sunscreen and be protected.
  4. Use sunscreen on all bare skin. This is easier in the winter, because you’re likely already bundled up for cold weather, but don’t forget to apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, including the back of your neck, tops of ears and scalp. Use lip balm of SPF 15 or higher to protect your lips. (Use SPF 30 lip balm in high-altitude activities.)
  5. Cover up. In addition to a coat, scarf and gloves, wear a ski mask or stocking cap that covers the ears (and keeps your head warm).
  6. Reapply sunscreen every two hours. Sunscreen doesn’t last forever and isn’t waterproof. If you’ve been swimming or sweating, put more sunscreen on immediately. For other activities, every couple hours is fine.
  7. Find some shade. Because sunny days are less regular in the winter, it can be tempting to soak up as much sun as possible while it’s out. Give yourself a break and stay indoors or in the shade during the sun’s peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 
  8. Wear sunglasses. Snow blindness occurs when the sun damages the cornea and is a potential threat in snowy conditions. Protect your eyes by wearing wrap-around sunglasses with a snug fit, so UV rays are blocked at the top and sides. Pick sunglasses with a UV400 rating or 100% UV protection.

Read more about how to protect your skin from the sun.

“The Importance of Wearing Sunscreen in the Winter.”, TriMedia. 2 Feb. 2023.
“Four Sun Winter Protection Tips.”, University of Utah. 2 Feb. 2022.
“Tips to Stay Safe in the Sun: From Sunscreen to Sunglasses.”, Food and Drug Administration. 15 August, 2022.

Sun Protection at the Snow.”, Victoria (Australia) Health Department. 10 May, 2021.