Protect Your Skin!


Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in the U.S., affecting more than 3.5 million Americans every year. For this reason, most people protect themselves before a day at the beach. But should you wear sunscreen in winter weather? The answer may surprise you.

Professional skier and three-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso is serving as a SPOTlighter with the American Academy of Dermatology’s SPOT Skin Cancer initiative, getting the word out about skin cancer prevention and detection. Read on to learn why it’s important to wear sunscreen in the winter, plus Julia’s top tips for preventing skin cancer while skiing.

Why should you wear sunscreen in winter weather?

Anytime you’re out in the sun, you need to protect your skin. Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) rays, an invisible form of radiation that can damage the DNA in your skin cells anytime of year. 

With direct exposure, UV rays penetrate deeply into the skin, causing sunburn, damage to connective tissue, and, potentially, skin cancer. That’s why you should wear sunscreen in the winter–especially while skiing.

Skin cancer and high elevation

Your risk of developing skin cancer may be higher around snow or in areas of high elevation. 

Snow is highly reflective. In fact, up to 90% of the sun’s UV rays can bounce off snow-covered surfaces. So if you’re in the snow in direct sunlight, you can be exposed to almost twice as much UV radiation than in other environments.

Furthermore, studies indicate that areas with high altitude have less dense atmosphere for UV rays to travel through, meaning you’re exposed to more radiation in those areas. Research shows the sun’s UV rays intensify by 8-10% for every 1,000 feet of elevation gained, due to the thinning atmosphere. So protecting yourself at high altitude is crucial.

Winter sun protection tips for skiing

Here are Julia Mancuso’s winter sun protection tips to keep you safe and healthy all winter long–especially if you’re on the slopes.

1. Put on sunscreen 15 minutes before going outdoors.

It takes 15 minutes for sunscreen to absorb into the skin and start working. So apply sunscreen before you leave the house.

2. When selecting a sunscreen, choose a product that’s SPF 30 or greater with broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection.

It’s important to use sunscreen with an ample Sun Protection Factor (SPF) that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. 

SPF is a measure of how many UVB rays sunscreen blocks out before you start to burn. SPF 30-50 is typically a good range. While there’s currently no measure of sunscreen’s protection against UVA rays, these rays are commonly associated with skin cancer, so it’s crucial to choose a sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum” to reduce exposure.

3. Make sunscreen a part of your ski gear bag, and find time to reapply every couple of hours.

Even water-resistant sunscreens won’t last all day–especially if you’re outdoors and/or sweating. Reapply your sunscreen at least every two hours. And if you’re sweating heavily, make it every 80 minutes.

4. Always protect your nose by wearing zinc oxide.

Your nose is one of the most commonly exposed areas of your body, so pay special attention to it–using a natural, effective sunscreen containing zinc oxide.

Chemical sunscreens absorb into the skin to absorb UV rays. While effective, those chemicals can also irritate sensitive skin, disrupt hormones, and even cause damage to the environment. 

Zinc oxide, on the other hand, is a mineral sunscreen that creates a physical barrier on the skin to reflect and scatter UV rays. This makes zinc oxide a safer, more natural option, and it’s naturally broad-spectrum.

5. Wear a daily moisturizer with sunscreen in it.

It’s important to wear sunscreen daily, and a moisturizer with SPF will give you a first application of sunscreen as well as protect your skin from dryness and irritation while skiing. Choose a moisturizer that’s appropriate for your skin type with SPF 30.

6. Wear goggles or sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection.

Your eyes need protection from the sun, too. UV radiation can contribute to a number of eye issues, including sunburn, cataracts, blindness due to macular degeneration, and cancer of the cornea–which can be especially prevalent in skiers. So put on protective eyewear before you hit the slopes.

7. Wear a hat.

No sunscreen is 100% protective, so it’s a good idea to have an extra layer of extra defense when you’re out in the sun and snow. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to shield your ears and neck from sun damage.

Wear sunscreen in the winter–and all seasons

It’s crucial to protect yourself from sun damage anytime you’re outdoors–even if it’s cold, and especially if it’s snowing. 

Using these tips when you’re skiing–and year-round–can reduce your risk of  cancer and other sun damage to the skin, helping  you live a longer, healthier life.


Carrie Solomon is a freelance health writer, web copywriter, and passionate wellness enthusiast. She’s on a mission to help wellness-focused companies everywhere educate, engage, and inspire their audiences to make the world a healthier, happier place. Learn more about her at or on LinkedIn.


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