A Message from the President — Winter 2013

With winter just around the corner, do we still have to worry about skin cancer prevention? In a word—yes. While the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays (the sunburn-causing rays) are strongest in summer, UVA rays remain constant throughout the year. UVA can penetrate into deeper layers of the skin, causing wrinkles, brown spots, and other signs of skin aging. It also can cause skin cancer.

Winter vacations add to your skin hazards. Snow and ice reflect up to 80 percent of UV rays, meaning that the rays hit you a second time. Furthermore, at higher altitudes (if you’re skiing in the mountains, for example), UV radiation exposure increases 4 to 5 percent with every 1,000 feet above sea level. Even in winter outerwear, your face and neck—where the majority of skin cancers occur—remain at least partially exposed. If you vacation in a sunny climate this winter, beware—intense sun exposure, the kind of exposure that typically leads to sunburn on a sunny vacation, greatly increases your risk of developing melanoma.

With these risks in mind, here are some key items you’ll need to stay sun-safe this winter:

Sun-protective clothing: Long sleeves, long pants, and gloves not only keep you warmer, but protect your arms, legs and hands against UV. A winter hat also pulls double duty, keeping your head warm and protecting your scalp, ears, and part of your face from the sun.

Sunglasses: Skin cancers of the eyelids account for 5-10 percent of all skin cancers, so sunglasses are essential. Look for a pair that locks 99-100 percent of UV rays, in a wraparound style that also offers protection on the sides. Try them on in the store to ensure a close fit so they don’t end up slipping down your nose, allowing UV rays to creep in.

Sunscreen: Clothing doesn’t protect all of your face, so keep a bottle of broadspectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher (SPF 30+ for extended outdoor exposure) where you’ll remember to use it all winter. Additionally, a significant percentage of all cancers are on the lips, so use a lip balm with a comparable SPF.

One thing not to do when the weather turns cold is turn to tanning beds. Recent research shows that more than 170,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer in the US each year are linked to indoor tanning. If you simply must have darkened skin, use a self-tanning product. Better yet, embrace the healthy, natural glow and radiance of your own skin. Remember to protect your skin throughout winter—while driving, playing with your children, skiing, or shoveling snow. Even though the seasons are changing, your commitment to skin cancer prevention should remain the same.

Remember, as you settle back into your post-summer everyday life, don’t let sun protection be forgotten! Practicing sun safety is a lifelong and year-round must.

Perry Robins, MD

Published on November 21, 2013