Published on December 17, 2010
Winter sports enthusiasts are at increased risk for overexposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The combination of higher altitude and UV rays reflected by the snow puts skiers and snowboarders at an increased risk of sun damage, and ultimately skin cancer. More than 90 percent of all skin cancers are associated with sun exposure.
"It's easy to associate winter with frostbite and windburn, but most people are unaware that UV rays can be every bit as damaging on the slopes as on the beach," said Perry Robins, MD, President, The Skin Cancer Foundation. "With the winter sports season ahead of us, it's more important than ever to take proper precautions on the slopes."
Higher altitude means increased risk of sun-induced skin damage, since UV radiation exposure increases 4 to 5 percent with every 1,000 feet above sea level. At an altitude of 9,000 to 10,000 feet, UV radiation may be 35 to 45 percent more intense than at sea level. In addition, snow reflects up to 80 percent of the UV light from the sun, meaning that you are often hit by the same rays twice. This only increases the risk for damage.
Both snow and strong wind can wear away sunscreen and reduce its effectiveness, so you have to take extra precautions. To protect your skin from the bitter cold, heavy winds and winter sun, follow these important sun protection tips:
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 or higher whenever you spend extended time outdoors. Apply 30 minutes before hitting the slopes. Be aware that the sun's reflection off the snow is strong even on cloudy days. (Up to 80 percent of the sun's rays can penetrate clouds.)
- Apply sunscreen liberally and evenly to all exposed skin - most skiers and snowboarders do not use enough. You should apply at least a teaspoon to the face.
- Use a moisturizing sunscreen with ingredients like lanolin or glycerin. Winter conditions can be particularly harsh on the skin.
- Be sure to cover often-missed spots: the lips, ears, around the eyes, and on the neck, the underside of chin, scalp and hands.
- Reapply every two hours, and immediately after heavy sweating.
- Always wear a lip balm with an SPF 15 or higher - lips are very sensitive.
- Carry a travel-sized sunscreen and lip balm with you on the slopes. Reapply on the chairlift, especially after a long, snow-blown run.
- Cover your head - it will protect your scalp and help keep you warm.
- Wear items like ski masks, which will leave very little skin exposed to the wind and sun.
- Sunglasses or goggles that offer 99 percent or greater UV protection and have wraparound or large frames will protect your eyes, eyelids and the sensitive skin around your eyes, which are common sites for skin cancers and sun-induced aging. The sun's glare can make you squint, so it's important to wear sunglasses or goggles to clearly see the terrain. Plus, it will increase your enjoyment and may even improve your performance while skiing!
Be Mindful of Time Spent in the Sun, Regardless of the Season
- If possible, ski early in the morning and later on in the day, before 10 AM and after 4 PM. This decreases the amount of time spent outdoors in the most intense sunlight and helps you avoid long lines.
- If you are on the slopes for most of the day, take a few breaks indoors to reapply sunscreen.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Enjoy the winter season, but be sure to take care of your skin to avoid the damage the cold season can cause.