Sun Damage in Winter


Protecting Your Skin From Winter Sun Damage: Essential Skin Care Tips

As the seasons change and summer fades into fall and winter, you may feel inclined to pack away your sunscreen and not worry about your skin again until the warmer months return. But don’t make this mistake! UV rays are always present and can cause harm to your skin regardless of the season. In fact, winter can be even harsher on the skin than summer — and sunburns aren’t the only skin concern to worry about during the cold months.

This article provides some essential skincare practices to protect yourself from the harms of winter sun exposure.

The Importance of Sunscreen in Winter

Protecting your skin from the sun's harmful rays is vital throughout the year, even in the colder months. Many believe the sun is less of a threat during winter, but the opposite is true. UVB rays, responsible for causing sunburn, are a threat at higher altitudes and in areas with reflective surfaces like snow and ice. Snow reflects almost 80% of UV rays, which significantly increases the risk of skin cancer and premature aging. Additionally, UVA rays can penetrate clouds, fog, and glass, so you need to be vigilant about skin protection in all weather conditions.

UVA vs. UVB Rays: What's the Difference?

So far, we’ve mentioned UVA and UVB rays — but what’s the difference? Knowing this distinction can help you care for your skin more effectively. While UVB rays are more intense during summer, UVA rays pose a consistent threat throughout the year.

  • UVA rays: These rays can penetrate the skin more deeply with their longer wavelength and are present all year. They can even penetrate clouds and glass. UVA rays contribute to premature aging, wrinkles, and age spots, which makes them a concern even on cloudy winter days.
  • UVB rays: On the other hand, UVB rays mostly affect the skin’s outer layers with their shorter wavelength. They are responsible for sunburns and play a part in skin cancer. Although UVB rays are generally stronger in the summer, they can still cause damage in winter, especially at high altitudes and on reflective surfaces like snow.

Can You Get a Sunburn in the Winter? Debunking Misconceptions

Sunburns can happen not only in summer but also throughout the year, and winter weather can increase the risk of sunburn from the snow. While we already know snow reflects UV rays, staying indoors during cold weather might also expose people to UVA rays through windows. These combined factors highlight the importance of constant sunburn prevention and challenge the notion that winter does not cause sun-related skin issues.

The Surprising Effects of UV Light in Winter

Beyond sunburns, UV light during winter can cause cumulative skin damage like premature aging and increase your risk of skin cancer. The importance of sun protection in winter goes beyond immediate discomfort; it’s essential in preserving your skin's long-term health and appearance. That’s why it’s critical to understand the year-round impact of UV light and adopt proactive measures that contribute to overall skin wellness, no matter the season.

Creating a Winter Skincare Routine

Your skincare routine needs to be adjusted slightly in the winter months to account for the impact of cold weather on your skin. Dry air, harsh winds, and the winter sun contribute to unique skin challenges, so a consistent skincare routine is needed to keep you glowing and healthy.

8 Daily Practices to Protect and Nourish Skin

Here are some simple steps to take for healthy skin in the winter:

  1. Use a gentle daily cleanser: Washing your face daily to keep your skin free of dirt, excess oil, and environmental impurities is critical. Find a cleanser gentle enough for daily use, wash with lukewarm water to prevent overdrying, and use a clean towel to pat dry. If your skin type is oily or you wear sunscreen and/or makeup every day, some dermatologists recommend double cleansing — washing the first time with an oil-based cleanser and following it up with a water-based cleanser to remove all types of impurities, including waterproof facial products.
  2. Find a hydrating moisturizer: Your skin desperately needs hydration in the cold, dry months. Find a moisturizer that works for your skin and use it daily on your face and other areas susceptible to dryness, like your elbows, hands, and knees.
  3. Exfoliate often: Use a gentle exfoliant to slough off dead cells a few times a week. This will give you a healthy glow, assist with cell turnover, and help your skin absorb moisturizer.
  4. Wear sunscreen daily: Use an SPF in the winter — preferably 15 or higher — as part of your skincare routine on your face and other exposed body areas.
  5. Drink plenty of water: Your skin is 64% water, so to keep it healthy and hydrated, carry a water bottle and drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  6. Practice lip care: The dryness of winter tends to be especially harsh on the lips, leading to painful cracking and chapping. Keep lip balm with you and apply it often while outside.
  7. Wear protective clothing: On snowy days when sun reflection is high, wear layers to shield your skin from UV rays and harsh winds.
  8. Rejuvenate skin after a day of sun damage: After a day of sun exposure, your skin deserves exceptional care and rejuvenation. After-sun products, cool compresses, and moisturizers can help, but our 8-in-1 BioSerum is a standout solution that provides results equivalent to eight separate serums. It rejuvenates and improves overall visible skin health and quality by minimizing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, pores, and skin pigmentation. Additionally, it promotes radiance, revives natural moisture, brightens skin tone, and enhances firmness, elasticity, and texture.

Bad Habits That Worsen Winter Skin Damage

Now that we’ve covered the dos of winter skincare, here are some don’ts that may be contributing to winter skin problems you might not even be aware of:

  • Hot showers: There’s nothing like a comforting hot shower after a day in the snow — but you may not realize hot showers can be quite drying for your skin. To keep your skin hydrated, shower in lukewarm water and limit the time you spend in the water.
  • Neglecting your hands: Forgetting to moisturize your hands in the winter can lead to uncomfortable dryness, cracking, and roughness. Use hand cream often and wear gloves when outdoors.
  • Not using a humidifier: Although it keeps your house warm and cozy, your central heating system can dry the air — and your skin. Consider using a humidifier to keep the atmosphere moist for your skin.
  • Exfoliating too often: Exfoliating more than a few times per week can damage the skin and worsen existing skin issues. Limit yourself to 2-3 times each week.

Prevention and Treatment of Winter Sun Damage

The colder months, often associated with cozy layers and frosty landscapes, demand a proactive approach to prevent and treat winter sun damage. Here are some easy strategies to safeguard your skin until spring.

Use Sunscreen in the Winter

Sunscreen may seem like a no-brainer when it comes to skin damage prevention, but you’d be surprised at how underutilized it is in the winter. As part of your skincare routine, incorporate a broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 15+ with moisturizer) to combat winter dryness. Pay special attention to overlooked areas like your hairline and ears. Don't forget to reapply, especially if you'll be outside for extended periods.

Keep Skin and Eyes Covered

Dressing in layers keeps you warm in the winter and is an essential part of sun protection. Long-sleeved shirts, pants, and hats are an effortless way to safeguard your arms, legs, and neck from the sun's harmful rays. Additionally, UV-blocking sunglasses can protect your eyes from the sun's glare and the delicate skin surrounding your eyes. This simple measure greatly reduces sun damage during activities like skiing, snowboarding, or a winter walk.

Avoid Tanning Beds

In an attempt to avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the bleak winter months, many people turn to tanning beds. (Who wouldn’t want to maintain their bronzed summer glow throughout the winter?) While tanning beds can undoubtedly help with mood, they are highly destructive to the skin. The concentrated UV radiation they emit can cause premature aging and increase skin cancer risk. Instead, consider safe alternatives like vitamin D supplements, sun lamps, and sunless tanning lotion to help your mood and skin appearance.

Treating Sun-Damaged Skin: OTC and Professional Options

If you’ve sustained winter skin damage, you may be able to find an over-the-counter (OTC) solution and save yourself a trip to the dermatologist. Whether for sunburns, premature aging, or other visible signs of sun damage, there are lots of treatments available at your local grocery, drugstore, or online, such as:

  • Moisturizers: Sun-damaged skin is usually dehydrated. Moisturizers with hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or ceramides can improve skin texture by restoring nutrients.
  • Exfoliant: Over-the-counter exfoliants with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) help to remove dead skin cells, promote cell turnover, and improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin.
  • Aloe vera: Aloe vera gel can provide relief for sunburned skin. Apply a generous amount to affected areas to relieve pain and kickstart healing.
  • Topical retinoids: Retinoids stimulate collagen production and diminish wrinkles caused by sun damage.
  • Defensins: Defensins molecules, a key ingredient in DefenAge’s 8-in-1 BioSerum, offer a revolutionary approach to sun-damaged skin treatment. Defensins act as messengers that awaken dormant cells to create new, healthy skin. Our BioSerum addresses visible signs of sun damage while providing treatment-like results, equivalent to eight separate serums.
  • Vitamin C serum: Vitamin C can help combat free radical damage caused by sun exposure and brighten your complexion.

Depending on the severity of the damage, you may need to turn to professional options, starting with a dermatological consultation and a personalized treatment plan for your condition. This plan may consist of any of the following:

  • Prescription medications: Topical medications with more potent retinoids or other active ingredients may be prescribed to address specific sun damage concerns.
  • Injectables: For deeper wrinkles or volume loss, dermal fillers and other injectables can restore youth to your appearance.
  • Laser therapy: This treatment can target specific skin issues related to sun damage, including pigmentation irregularities and fine lines.
  • Microneedling and DefenAge products: The microneedling procedure involves creating tiny, controlled skin punctures to encourage collagen production and reduce sun damage. When you follow up a microneedling treatment with DefenAge products, you can enhance collagen production, accelerate the reduction of sun damage, and enjoy a powerful synergy for comprehensive skin revitalization.
  • Chemical peels: Dermatologists use a chemical solution to remove the outer layer of damaged skin to promote the growth of new, healthier skin.

Who's Most at Risk for Winter Sun Damage?

While anyone can experience winter sun damage, certain risk factors make some more susceptible. Knowing your risk level can help protect your skin proactively through the cold months.

Hikers and Joggers

Enthusiastic hikers and joggers are particularly susceptible to winter sun damage, as their time outdoors increases their exposure to harmful UV rays. Moreover, the elevated altitudes associated with hiking trails intensify UV radiation. Hikers and joggers should prioritize sun protection by wearing appropriate clothing, applying sunscreen, and planning activities during lower sun intensity.

Skiers and Snowboarders

Skiing and snowboarding pose an increased risk of sunburn and skin damage due to the reflective nature of snow, which significantly amplifies UV radiation. The combination of high altitudes, cold temperatures, and intense sunlight requires skiers and snowboarders to be especially careful about sun protection by using UV-blocking sunglasses, applying sunscreen to exposed skin, and wearing protective clothing on the slopes.

Anyone Else Spending Time Outdoors in the Winter

Even if you aren’t consistently spending time outside in the winter, certain winter activities can still put you at risk of winter skin damage, including occasional sledding trips, hanging Christmas lights, and shoveling your driveway whenever it snows. Take precautions in these cases by covering up as much as possible and using sunscreen on your face and other exposed areas.

When to Contact a Dermatologist

Regular self-examinations and a diligent skincare routine are vital in identifying skin issues, but a dermatologist brings specialized knowledge and diagnostic tools to assess the severity of sun damage. People who go outside frequently, such as outdoor enthusiasts and those with fair skin, should be especially vigilant. There are instances where professional guidance becomes essential, so in addition to your annual skin checks, let your dermatologist know if you have sudden or worsening changes to your skin.

Identifying Serious Sun Damage and Skin Concerns

Sun damage can cause unusual moles, skin texture changes, or rough, scaly patches. These symptoms may indicate the presence of precancerous or cancerous lesions that require immediate attention. If you see any sudden changes in the appearance of your existing moles or the emergence of new, irregularly shaped ones, see your skincare provider immediately. Fortunately, skin cancer can be highly treatable when detected early. Early intervention can significantly improve the outcomes of various skin conditions and ensure your skin's long-term health and vitality.

In addition to sun-related concerns, dermatologists can help you with various skin issues, including persistent acne, eczema, psoriasis, and other chronic conditions. They can provide personalized treatment plans, recommend suitable skincare products, and offer guidance on lifestyle adjustments to promote skin health.

Keep in mind that your skin mirrors your general health, and you should promptly address any changes or concerns.

FAQs: Your Questions Answered

Here are some other commonly asked questions about the winter sun and its impact on the skin.

Can you tan in the winter sun?

While it's possible to tan in the winter sun, remember that tanning is a sign of skin damage. The FDA reports that increased melanin, or skin pigment, which causes your skin to turn tan, is a sign of damage — and prolonged sun exposure, even in winter, can contribute to premature aging and skin cancer. Use sunless tanning products instead if you want to maintain a bronzed look and maintain healthy skin.

Should I use sunscreen in winter?

Yes! Sunscreen is needed year-round; UV rays can cause skin damage even on cloudy days, and the reflective properties of snow increase your exposure. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen and apply it to all uncovered skin. This helps prevent sunburn and protects against long-term damage.

How to spot and treat sunburn in winter

Sunburn symptoms may be less apparent in winter than in summer. Look for redness, pain, and peeling, especially on exposed skin areas. Try aloe vera gel and over-the-counter pain relievers if you suspect a sunburn. To counteract dryness, keep your skin hydrated with a moisturizer, avoid further sun exposure, and consider wearing protective clothing until the sunburn is healed. If symptoms persist or worsen, seek medical attention.