You probably think you’re especially safe from the sun’s skin-ageing effects during the cloudier, greyer days of winter… right? Wrong. It's a big mistake. A huge mistake!
Most people want to ease up on sunscreen use during the winter, as the sun feels weaker and so you are less likely to burn. But that's a misconception. Only one of the two UV perpetrators, UVB, is actually lessened by clouds and the winter season. The other, UVA, is very much present year-round.
Before we dive any deeper, here’s a quick refresher on UVA and UVB rays:
Ultraviolet A rays, also called “long wave” rays, make up 95% of the rays that reach the surface of the Earth. They can penetrate the skin much deeper than UVB rays, damaging collagen and elastin in your skin, which results in the acceleration of fine lines and wrinkles and triggers melanocytes leading to dark spots. They can also initiate skin cancers. These are the rays that make you more tanned. UVA rays can penetrate glass and clouds. These harmful rays can not only can cause skin cancer, but are also the source of about 90% of all wrinkles.
Ultraviolet B rays, or “shortwave” rays, don’t penetrate the skin as deeply. These are what cause redness and sunburns. They are most intense from early spring to autumn, during the day’s sunniest hours. UVB rays are less likely to penetrate glass than UVA rays, and although they dwindle in the winter, many can still reach the Earth’s surface and are easily reflected off elements such as snow and ice. Snow and ice can reflect up to 90% of UV rays. This makes them a bigger threat on the ski slopes, and at higher altitudes on sunny days. But the point here is that UVA + B rays are basically omnipresent all year round, even in small amounts.
Your skin is not protected from the sun whilst indoors.
Even if you work in an office all day long, you shouldn’t skip sunscreen. This is especially true if you sit near a window or drive to work. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, glass does block UVB rays well enough, but not UVA rays. The same applies to glass windows on planes, buses, and in cars, per the Skin Cancer Foundation. Even this small dose of sunlight may impact your skin. One study found that people sitting near windows had more wrinkles and deeper crow’s feet on the side of their faces exposed to the window. Of course, there’s also the blue light from computers and screens that may be a concern.
So, unless you work or live like a vampire in a window-less underground dungeon, wear sunscreen even when indoors!
The winter’s thin Ozone Layer is even more dangerous.
The Ozone Layer acts as Earth’s sun shield, absorbing harmful UV rays. However, the ozone layer is actually at its thinnest during the winter season. Windburn and sunburn also act together during the winter months. The freezing temperatures and vicious winds that leave your skin dry and agitated allow for UV rays to have a better shot at your skin. Wearing sunscreen on exposed skin, especially between 10.00AM and 4.00PM when the sun’s rays are strongest, will keep you protected from these damaging rays.
Whilst there are less direct UV rays in the winter, there is a significant reflection of these rays which can still easily cause sunburn. Even if you don’t get burned, the UV rays are still at work causing wrinkles and ageing the skin.
SPF in Winter will help to delay signs of ageing.
Even throughout winter in the UK and Europe, I recommend that you wear sunscreen daily to prevent cumulative sun exposure and the resulting fine lines, wrinkles, discolouration, and even skin cancer. It is important that your sunscreen is “broad spectrum”, as that denotes full coverage, including UVA protection.
Sunscreen is an unsung anti-ageing hero, and is probably the best product out there to turn back the clock on ageing skin.
Look for physical sunscreens, ones with active ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that physically block the damaging rays, which are applied from hand to body.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you’re 30 now. In 30 years, would you rather look closer to 70 or 50? If you’d rather look younger, for longer… wear SPF daily!
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Words by Adeela Crown.