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Sneaky Sun Damage: How to Protect Yourself in Winter

Even though we’re all bundled up during the frigid winter months, we might still be susceptible to the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.

In cold weather, the sun’s warmth is conspicuously absent, making us think that sun protection is less urgent than in warm weather. However, the sun’s ultraviolet rays, irrespective of the heat we might or might not feel, cause sun damage and skin cancer.

Unfortunately, because we don’t feel the direct heat of the sun during the winter the way we do during the spring and summer, we might not be as vigilant about sunscreen during winter activities. We might not even realize we’re spending much time outdoors! But many of us do spend our winters outside in ways that might not register as putting us at risk of skin cancer. Here are a few common winter activities that require sun protection.

Outdoor/Yard Work

We like to think of wintertime as being the season of staying cozily indoors by the warmth of a welcoming fire. However, with winter comes shoveling snow, clearing debris from the exterior of our homes, scraping ice off of windows, and other activities that force us to leave the comfort of our homes. And because we’re not exactly basking in the sun while we’re shoveling snow, it might not occur to us to slather on the sun protection beforehand.

Always apply sunscreen before spending time outside during winter, especially while performing activities that could work up a sweat. If you plan on spending a Saturday afternoon clearing snow from your yard, apply a good, water-resistant sunblock like WestDerm Water Resistant Liquid Mineral SPF 50+ (Sheer Mineral Sunscreen).


If you’re heading out to the slopes, don’t forget to pack UV-protecting eyewear and plenty of sunscreen! Winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, or just being outdoors with a warm mulled cider can put you at significant risk of sun damage. In fact, your risk of sunburn while skiing might be greater than it is on the beach in summer.

Because snow reflects UV radiation extremely efficiently, any skin that is exposed while outside is at high risk of sunburn and long-term sun damage. Moreover, the higher elevation means the atmosphere is thinner, and the UV radiation is even stronger than at sea level. Wearing sun protection for the skin and eyes is critical to preventing issues like accelerated aging, skin cancer, and eye diseases like macular degeneration.


If you do a lot of driving in snowy conditions, you could be at risk for significant sun damage, particularly if you drive an older car with non-UV-protecting windows. Even if your windows do protect against UVA rays, most vehicles’ rear and side windows do not offer UVB protection, which can lead to skin aging and cancers.

Always wear sunscreen before any road trips, and keep UV-protecting eyewear in your car to protect your vision, too.


Wintertime might be cloudier, but the sun’s UV rays are just as damaging. If you plan on spending your winter participating in any outdoor activities – particularly at higher elevations – you still need every bit as much sun protection as you would during the warmer months.

Not only can you get a sunburn, but you can also get significant windburn, which breaks down your skin’s protective barrier, leaving you more vulnerable to sun damage.

Before heading out to the trails, mountains, or beach, apply a generous layer of sunscreen designed to withstand harsh outdoor elements. It’s also a good idea to carry additional sunscreen with you so that you can re-apply your sun protection throughout the day. A great on-the-go product is EltaMD UV Stick Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+. It’s a broad-spectrum formula designed to be applied and re-applied easily. It’s also TSA-compliant, so it’s a great product to pack if you’re headed on a winter break.

Having periodic skin checks by a board-certified dermatologist is one of the most important strategies for preventing skin cancer. To find a qualified dermatologist near you, please visit our information page today.


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