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Tips for Healthy, Protected Winter Skin

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With another major winter storm on the radar, it is almost certain that this month will hit the record books as the snowiest in New England history. As thousands head outside this holiday weekend to ski, sled, snowmobile, or simply just shovel out, we at Dermatology would like to take a few moments to send a friendly reminder about the importance of winter UV protection.

We all know not to head out into the cold without a hat and mittens, but what about sunscreen and UV lip balm?

Dr. Perry Robbins, president of The Skin Cancer Foundation tells us, “It’s easy to associate winter with frostbite and windburn, but most people are unaware the UV rays can be every bit as damaging on the slopes as on the beach."

Fact is, winter sunburns can be worse than burns incurred in the summer time, and often times more difficult to detect due to the cold air cooling and numbing affected skin.

One of the reasons for this is that snow is highly reflective. According to the U.S. Skin Cancer Foundation, snow reflects about 80% of UV rays. What this means is that when outside in snow conditions, you are actually hit by the sun twice: once from direct sunlight above, and then secondly from the reflection bouncing off of the snow below you.

Additionally, for many outdoor sports that are enjoyed in mountainous areas, such as skiing and snowshoeing, higher elevation equates to higher risk of sun-induced skin damage. For every 1,000 feet above sea level, UV radiation increases by 5 %. At any one of New Hampshire’s 4,000 ft. mountains, that means a 20% increase in UV exposure.

Lastly, blowing snow, wind, and perspiration can wear away sunscreen and reduce its ability to protect the skin. This is especially important when engaging in activities such as snow blowing, skiing, and hiking in windy areas, where the face is being hit with a lot of snow.

To stay safe this winter, follow these important sun protection guidelines:

  • Make sure to use plenty of high-quality sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. A good rule of thumb is one teaspoon for the face.
  • Don't forget your lips! Use a lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher.
  • Be sure to cover the spots that often get missed, such as the ears, around the eyes, neck, and underside of the chin - remember to account for sun reflection!
  • When outside for extended periods of time, remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours. During periods of heavy perspiration or blowing snow, reapply even sooner.
  • Wear sunglasses or goggles that will protect your eyes from glare off of snow. Look for brands that offer full UVA/UVB protection.
  • If possible, perform activities earlier or later in the day. The peak period of UV rays is from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M.
  • Use moisturizing soaps and lotions. Winter conditions are tough on skin, and dried, cracked skin is even more susceptible to damage.
  • Drinks lots of water to keep skin fully hydrated.

With these helpful tips in mind, we hope you have a blast out there. Have fun, and be safe!

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