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Winter is a wonderful time for outdoor adventurers. Many hit the slopes, others continue their outdoor exercise regimens and some simply enjoy a regular walk in the winter sunshine. However, you must be careful because you can get skin cancer in the winter too. It is imperative to protect your skin from the sun, and especially for men, to protect your ears and lips.
Dr. Joshua Fox
According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, men’s increased risk for skin cancer is due to their shorter hairstyles combined with improper sunscreen application. Women are also vulnerable, especially if they have thin or short hair, or wear their hair pulled back in a ponytail. There is a much greater prevalence of ear skin cancer in men than women. We also have more basal cell cancer of the lip in men than women. This is because women use lipstick and other balms that typically have some sun protection.
The importance of sunscreen application to every bit of exposed skin during the winter months cannot be underscored enough. Applying sunscreen in the summer months is widely accepted, particularly at the beach and at other outdoor activities, but unfortunately, few people are applying the sunscreen needed to protect their skin in the winter months.
Winter weather can increase the negative effects of UV exposure in several ways. First, snow reflects up to 80 percent of UV light. The result is that the same sun rays can hit you twice. And second, snow, cold and strong winds can erode sunscreen protection. Also up to 80% of UV rays can go through clouds.
Winter athletes, especially skiers and snowboarders are particularly vulnerable to sun damage because of the high elevations of the mountains where the UV exposure can be far more intense than even at the beach. This is because UV exposure increases 4 to 5 percent with every 1,000 feet above sea level.
Here are some smart ways to protect yourself from skin cancer during the winter months.
Apply broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher at least 20 minutes before going outdoors. This is key to establishing ongoing coverage and protection from the sun. Don’t forget to reapply sunscreen throughout the day either, especially if you are planning on being out for an extended period of time, like skiing or sledding. Plan on re-applying sunscreen every hour to two hours to ensure you are sufficiently protected.
Wear large frame sunglasses or wraparound goggles to protect your eyes and eyelids where melanoma can develop. Scarves are great for protecting your neck, and of course hats can help shade your eyes as well.
Invest in a ski mask to protect your scalp and face from UV rays and the environmental elements when spending time on the slopes. This will also lessen the premature wrinkling and the “worn out” look.
Make sure to use enough sunscreen. Most people don’t apply enough. You will need to apply at least 1 teaspoon to your face to provide adequate protection. Believe it or not, the amount of sunscreen you should use is always more than you think you should put on.
Pay attention to apply sunscreen to frequently overlooked places, such as the ears (on top and behind), lips, around the eyes, neck (front and back) and scalp. Not only will this increase your chances of getting skin cancer, it can also cause a painful sunburn.
Wear lip balm with SPF 15 or higher and reapply frequently, even when your lips do not feel dry. If you are skiing or snowboarding, take the time while riding on the chair lift up the mountain to apply lip balm. You can never apply too much lip balm.
Apply sunscreen to hands, face and lips before driving in your car. More skin cancers are found on the left side of patients’ faces in the US and on the right side in England (which is the side exposed to the most sunlight while driving).
Take breaks and go indoors every two hours to reapply sunscreen. If possible, avoid exposure to the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The sun’s UV penetration is highest during the middle of the day, so whenever possible, try to minimize the time outdoors during these hours. Plan your indoor activities to take place when the UVB sunrays are strongest.
Skin cancer is serious. It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime and 1.3 million new cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer will be diagnosed this year, according to the American Cancer Society. One in every 62 Americans will develop melanoma and about 9,000 are expected to die from the disease. The lion’s share, more than 90 percent of skin cancer, is caused by exposure to UV radiation. Deaths from skin cancer are largely preventable if we protect ourselves from the sun all year round. As noted here, simple and practical preventative steps can go a long way towards reducing the potential harm to the skin from the winter sun.