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This Winter, Don’t Forget Sunscreen
Though you might not think about SPF in winter months, sun protection is important year round.

By Amanda Koehler





You may be thinking more about moisturizing your skin this season.

The CDC has also found over 100 million Americans experience some degree of sunburn annually, either by not properly applying sunscreen or not using it at all.

But even though the sandals and bathing suit are packed away, sunscreen should stay well in reach. In fact, it is always the season for sunscreen, even though most of our skin is under layers of clothes in the winter months.

And even though we know better, studies show we often overlook taking simple steps when in the sun: using protective clothing, applying sunscreen and avoiding direct sun exposure. The New Age Skin Research Foundation conducted a study and found many melanoma patients were aware of the sun’s effects and dangers, but few took these protective steps–until after they were diagnosed with skin cancer.

Sunscreen Facts and Myths
The consequences of ignoring the dangers of the sun can be dire. More than 1 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 132,000 new cases of melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Melanoma is responsible for more than 8,500 skin cancer deaths annually; this number has been on the rise over the past decade in large part due to unprotected sun exposure, the AAD says.

Surprisingly, the motivating factor for putting on sunscreen isn’t these humbling statistics, however. When counseling his patients, Joshua Fox, MD, plays up the effects of the sun on skin aging as opposed to the cancer risk. People are more concerned with wrinkles and sunspots, says Dr. Fox, a New York dermatologist, founder and medical director of Advanced Dermatology, PC and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery.

“If you’re under 40, you probably don’t know anyone who has skin cancer and it’s nothing you can relate to,” explains Dr. Fox, who is also the president of The New Age Skin Research Foundation. “But you do see people with wrinkled skin.”

Interestingly, sunscreen isn’t the only precaution you should be taking to protect yourself.

“A lot of people think just putting sunscreen on is just like Superman changing into his cape-they think they will be totally immune to the effect of ultraviolet (UV) light,” says dermatologist Clay Cockerell, MD, clinical professor of Dermatology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; and former president of the AAD. “Sunscreen does block a significant part of UV rays, but not 100 percent.

During the winter, remember to put sunscreen on all exposed areas, even if you are just going out to play in the snow or ski. You may be wearing a scarf, gloves and a snowsuit, but your exposed face is still subjected to UV rays. Even though there is less direct sunlight in the winter, there is still a chance to get burned-especially since snow reflects light.

Another recent myth about sunscreen is that if you wear it, you will block out the beneficial vitamin D you obtain from the sunlight. This is false, according to Dr. Cockerell. Between five and 10 minutes in the sun a few times a week will give you all the vitamin D you need, Dr. Cockerell contends. You can always take vitamin D supplements or add foods containing vitamin D to your diet as well. “We have an epidemic of skin cancer on our hands, not of vitamin D-related rickets,” he adds.

Finding Your SPF
At the least, consumers should wear an SPF of 15. Those with fair skin should wear an SPF of 30 or higher, Dr. Cockerell says. New sunscreens on the market even go as high as an SPF of 85 or 90. “If you’re compulsive, have sensitive skin or have had skin cancer, those are good for you,” Dr. Cockerell tells ADVANCE.

People can be allergic to types of sunscreen, including those made of organic compounds. Instead of forgoing sunscreen all together, they can try sunscreens made of inorganic compounds, such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide.

Dr. Fox suggests putting your sunscreen right next to your toothbrush so you remember to put it on every morning when you brush your teeth. Check as well for moisturizers with sunscreen included, especially if you are concerned with wrinkles. These steps can help you look good, as well as stay healthy-no matter the motivation.

Amanda Koehler is an associate editor at ADVANCE.

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