By now, it’s fair to say that sunscreen is a mainstay in summer beauty routines. We apply oils, serums, moisturisers, and finally SPF before leaving the house. It’s all in the name of protecting our skin from cancers and preventing unwanted signs of ageing. When the weather starts to cool and the sun’s rays are softer, do your habits change?
Most of us presume that our skin is less susceptible to any burns and skin cancers during winter. After all, we’re likely spending more time indoors, wrapped up in layers with fewer hours in direct sunlight. It’s time we put the tales to rest, though; the sun is still incredibly potent on a cloudy, miserable winter’s day.
According to many dermatologists, we should be wearing SPF throughout the winter months as well (even if you are stuck inside). The sun isn’t less harmful at this time; it’s just masked by colder weather and fewer daylight hours. We can’t feel the sun as much, so we frequently ignore its booming presence.
The terms UVA and UVB are often tossed around, but what do these really mean? UVB rays from the sun are associated with tanning, sunburn and, ultimately, skin cancers, while UVA rays are more penetrative and prompt premature ageing. Note the appearance of fine lines, sagging skin, and pigmentation issues. UVB rays are short-wave and less powerful; in winter, the effects weaken when blocked by clouds or windows. On the other hand, UVA rays maintain their efficacy throughout the year - rain, hail or shine.
According to a report by the American Academy of Dermatology, 80% of the sun’s rays can still reach us when cloudy. These UVA rays are a longer wavelength and therefore pass through clouds and glass. Even indoors, UVA rays can reach us. You may go through winter burn-free, but the damage to your skin permeates much deeper with long-term impacts and visibility. You can’t feel it, but it’s happening. Anyone sitting by a window or venturing outdoors on their lunch break - whether the temperature is mild or brisk - is still being hit by these rays. Incidental moments like commuting (if you aren’t working from home) and driving have a significant impact on our skin.
What’s more, in winter, we are more likely to hit the slopes or ascend to a higher altitude. Snow and ice reflect these harmful rays, and the exposure to ultraviolet rays is much greater when we climb further up the mountain.
SPF in winter? You bet. If you want to keep your skin looking younger and fresher for longer, SPF year-round is a no-brainer. When the blinds are fully drawn, you spend the whole day in bed, and no speck of sunshine can get through; only then are you excused of application. (And even then, it’s better to be safe than sorry).
Follow these additional SPF tips to protect your skin in all weather situations.
Choosing your sunscreen
Always select a broad-spectrum sunscreen. This label means the sunscreen covers both UVA and UVB rays in relative balance; other options generally lack UVA protection (and we know this coverage is vital in every season). Go for the highest SPF you can - ideally SPF 50 or above - to ensure adequate measures of preservation from both rays.
Unfortunately, a moisturiser “with SPF” doesn’t cut it most of the time. Choose the real deal and apply it at the end of your facial routine. There are so many options available now, all with varying consistencies and thicknesses. You are guaranteed to find one to suit your skin type and needs. In the same vein, don’t rely on makeup with SPF included. As many experts note, we generally need more SPF than the amount of makeup we wear, so a foundation with SPF isn’t going to cut it for proper protection.
Applying your sunscreen
You’ve got your SPF, and you’re ready to go, but it comes down to the application. Many of us are likely not applying the amount required - we go too minimal. The general rule of thumb is to use one teaspoon of sunscreen per limb. Most importantly, this applies to your face, neck (including the back), ears, and backs of your hands during winter.
Try to cover up at least 20 minutes before leaving the house or exposing yourself to the sun, giving the cream a chance to settle and form a barrier. Experts also recommend reapplication every two hours to ensure optimum coverage, regardless of sweaty or water-based activities. Sebum (our natural oils) and general sweat break down the barrier despite the season.
Dressing for protection
Of course, sunscreen alone can’t save us from the power of the sun - it can’t block everything. It’s also crucial to dress appropriately: wear a hat, sunglasses, and protective, dark clothing.
There’s no doubt Australians love the sun - we soak it up year-round. One simple act can help protect our futures and our faces: sunscreen. So get applying. Lather up and enjoy the youthful benefits.