It seems easy for most of us to remember to practice sun protection when it starts getting nice outside. We are reminded to cover up when we see sunscreen kiosks at our favorite retailer. Most health and beauty magazines have a “get ready for summer” issue that offers tips to avoid sunburn and sun damage. When the swim suits go on we have been conditioned to apply sunscreen to prevent a sun burn.
Especially here in Arizona when it is 100+ degrees outside, our brains give us an unconscious nudge to cover up. “Wow, is it hot!” Unfortunately, in more temperate climates like Southern California and Hawaii, it doesn’t feel as hot outside, so our bodies have less of a sense that we should minimize our sun exposure. That is often why visitors to these great vacation spots are quick to sunburn. It doesn’t seem hot, yet the ultraviolet light is still damaging the skin.
Then same concept of “not feeling hot outside” is why sunburn still happens in the winter months. It doesn’t matter if you are walking the Freedom Trail on a sunny February day in Boston or skiing the slopes in Colorado in December, if the sun is out and skin is exposed, you are likely to get burned. Of course, less skin is typically exposed during cold weather activities due to more clothing, but almost anything we do in nearly any cold climate on the planet, our faces are exposed. Also, don’t forget that even on overcast days, up to 80% of ultraviolet light passes through the clouds, potentially causing sunburns and sun damage.
So, we should cover up all year long. For most of the country, that means daily use of a sunscreen/moisturizer combination to the face, neck and hands with an SPF30 or higher. Daily use makes most sense because you never have to think about whether or not you should apply. The mantra I suggest to patients is: “Toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen”. The rest of your body will probably be covered with layers of clothes in the winter months in most of the country.
During winter in the southern United States where the temperatures are more mild, daily sunscreen is obviously still important, but sun protective clothing is a great addition to your overall sun protective efforts as you live and vacation in warm climates. I urge my patients to cover as much of their skin as possible with clothing and then use sunscreen for the areas that can’t be covered with clothes.
There is no time like the present to start or tune-up your sun protection habits!
More to come…
Michael Huether, M.D.