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two snowmen in the sun, one is sunburned and one is holding sunscreen it had put on

Remember to Put on Sunscreen in the Winter

It was four degrees, but sunny, on the morning of the 5K run that I had signed up to do. The Hot Chocolate Run was for a great cause (an organization called Safe Passage that serves individuals affected by domestic violence) and I wasn’t going to back out. Actually, I could have stayed home because I had already raised the money, but then I wondered what would happen if everyone wimped out.

I spent some time planning what to wear. I put on my warm runner’s shirt and layered up with a fleece sweatshirt and a vest. I got out my hat and gloves. I have gloves for running but instead, I chose warm mittens. I took out a jacket that I could leave at the bag drop off area.

Remembering my sunscreen in this winter weather

And, just as I was about to run out the door, I remembered… I hadn’t put on any sunscreen. I had to remind myself that the sun still shines, whether it’s cold or not. The rays aren’t as strong, but they are still there. Truth be told, I have NOT been good about using sunscreen in the winter. I rummaged in the cabinet under my bathroom sink and pulled out a tube of Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Face Dry Touch Sunscreen SPF 50. The fact that I had to rummage and pull it out, is a sign that I had not been good about it.

Preferred types of sunscreen

Given recent research showing that sunscreens with zinc in them work the best, I knew that it would protect my skin. Even though this sunscreen was specifically for the face, it was not exactly what I would have preferred. It didn’t really matter what I looked like, but the pure zinc formation, even though lighter than the older version, still gives that “lifeguard look.”

I would have preferred the lighter weight EltaMD UV Physical Broad-Spectrum SPF 41, which my dermatologist recommended. I had a tinted and a plain tube somewhere, but I didn’t have time to find it among all the junk that is under my bathroom sink.

Research supports the need for winter sunscreen aplication

The next day, while walking my dog with a friend, I asked if she wore sunscreen in the winter. “Always,” she said. “The sun isn’t as strong but you still need to do it.” The Skin Cancer Foundation backs this up.

According to a post on winter sun safety, “It’s easy to associate vigilant sun protection with summertime when the sun is shining intensely. This shouldn’t be the case: Sun protection is necessary every day, regardless of the weather or time of year.”1 The post continues, “UVB rays, the main cause of sunburn, are the strongest in the summer. However, UVB rays can burn and damage your skin year-round, especially at high altitudes and on reflective surfaces such as snow or ice…UVA rays remain constant throughout the year and can penetrate through clouds and fog.”1

Did winter sun contribute to my skin cancer?

I attribute my skin cancer partially to all the time I spent unprotected under the summer sun, but I never thought about the role played by winter sun exposure. Now that I’ve had more squamous cell cancers than I can count, I need to remember to be vigilant. That goes for you the reader also, whether or not you’ve had skin cancer.

Buying sunscreen in the winter

I’m a hypocrite when it comes to Amazon. I don’t like how it is gobbling up everything. I don’t support it by being a Prime member, but I will let someone else order for me. Of course, there are many stores in which to buy the Elta brand I wanted, but I lollygagged. My boyfriend is a Prime member. I told him I couldn’t find my Elta, and a few days later he had bought a tube for me. Now I just need to remember to put it on.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The SkinCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Winter Sun Safety: What to Know About Protecting Yourself During Colder Months. Skin Cancer Foundation. https://www.skincancer.org/press/2018-winter-sun-safety/

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