Updated Dec 2019

n the summer, slathering on sunscreen is like second nature. Naturally, we associate the heat and increased outdoor time with sun damage, and take efforts to protect our skin. But, as the temperatures start to drop in the winter months, more often than we like to admit, so does the sunscreen routine. When in fact, UVA rays—which penetrate the skin more deeply to cause premature aging and account for up to 95 percent of the UV radiation that actually reaches us—are just as intense in the winter as in the summer. Even on gloomy days, these damaging rays can penetrate the clouds to cause sun damage. Simply put, your skin doesn’t know or care what season it is—it just measures cumulative sun exposure over your lifetime until your cells reach their threshold. There you have the formula for skin damage, including some skin cancers. While we bundle up more in the winter, our faces are still prime for sun damage— especially if we live in snow-heavy climates or enjoy hitting the slopes. Snow and sleet reflects the sun’s rays onto your skin, so in this case, sunscreen can be even more crucial in the winter.  

Here are a few important tips if you’re in the market for a new sunscreen this winter:


Tip #1: Consider How Much Time You Spend In The Sun

If you don’t spend much time in the sun during the winter months and only outdoors for short periods of time to go to and from your daily activities, Dr. Thomas Rohrer, a Boston-based dermatologist, suggests a daily moisturizer with an SPF of at least 30. For those who spend more time in the sun or live in a climate with frequent snow, apply a stronger sunscreen generously every few hours.

Tip #2: Check For UVA/UVB Protection

Did you know that the SPF rating only refers to protection from UVB rays? While UVB rays cause sunburn and play the largest role in melanoma skin cancer, the ozone actually absorbs most UVB rays before they reach the Earth’s surface. The SPF says nothing about UVA rays, which ironically, make up about 95 percent of the UV radiation that is bestowed on us. Look for a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection against UVB and UVA rays.

Tip #3: Don’t Rely On A Higher SPF

In theory, a sunscreen with an SPF 100 would protect your skin 100 times greater from UVB rays than without it; an SPF 30 would protect your skin 30 times better than wearing no protection. The problem is that experts measure the level of protection by putting a large amount of sunscreen on a small area of skin and testing it. In reality, we do not apply that much. Therefore, high SPF sunscreen products give consumers a false security that they can apply less and remain in the sun longer. When applied generously according to the instructions on the label, sunscreens with SPF values in the range of 30 to 50 have been shown to offer strong sunburn protection.

Tip #4: Avoid Oxybenzone

Nearly half of the 1,400-plus beach and sport sunscreens screened by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for their annual 2019 Sunscreen Guide contain oxybenzone. The chemical easily penetrates the skin, where it mimics estrogen in the body to disrupt hormones. It can also trigger allergic reactions. Read the label and avoid products that contain this ingredient.  Also, check out this Sunscreen Guide to see how your sunscreen rates in sun protection and chemical safety.

Carly Harrill, Natural Health Care Expert, Zax Health. Follow her on Twitter at @carlyharrill or visit her blog.