There’s a huge misconception that sunscreen only needs to be worn during the summer, but you’re actually prone to sunburn at any time of the year. The importance of wearing sunscreen year-round, yes that includes the winter months, is to protect your skin from harmful UV rays that stick around even when it isn’t hot out. Don’t be misled by those clouds that come in the spring, or the cooler temperatures of winter and fall, the rays may not be as warm but they are still there and sun exposure is not limited to just the summer. Our Reno dermatologists recommend keeping the sunscreen handy all year long, and here’s why.
Nevada has an interesting climate that doesn’t always make sense, but the locals have learned to just go with the flow. With that in mind, the weather has less to do with your skincare than the sun does. UVA and UVB rays are extremely damaging in any climate. But in Nevada, the sun rarely goes away. Nevada has an average of 290 sunny days a year, meaning you’re at risk of skin damage in any season.
UVB rays are called the “burning” rays, and UVA rays are referred to as the “aging” rays. UVB rays are what cause our sunburns and penetrate no deeper than the epidermis. At the epidermis, the UVB rays stimulate melanocytes, which give us our color, tans, and burns. During the summer the UVB ray is stronger due to the rotation of the earth being closer to the sun and weaker in the winter. The UVA rays, on the other hand, reach much deeper through the epidermis to the dermis.
Throughout the year the UVA strength stays the same, but they can penetrate through light clothing, glass, and clouds. Even on a cloudy, snowy day, we are still getting 80% of the UVA rays from the sun. These rays, since they reach the dermis, are helping age the skin. The dermis is where our collagen, elastin, blood vessels, and nerve endings are found. As the UVA rays hit the dermis it is breaking down our collagen and elastin causing lines, wrinkles, and uneven brown pigment.
While the sun does feel hotter in the summer months as compared to the winter, it affects you a little differently when you can’t feel the hot rays directly on your skin. For instance, the ozone layer, which acts as Earth’s natural protective sunscreen, is the thinnest in the Northern hemisphere during the winter. This means that your exposure to the sun will actually be greater at this time.
If there’s snow on the ground you are also at a greater risk of sun exposure. This is because snow reflects back 80% of UV rays, that’s almost double! And if you thought you were safe from UV rays indoors, think again. About 50-60% of UV rays go right through glass windows, which means you are still at risk for exposure to these harmful and damaging rays.
However, in the summer months, UVB rays are much stronger than in other seasons. Since UVB rays reach further into the skin, they are often more damaging than UVA rays. This is the best reason for why you tend to get a sunburn more easily in the warmer months.
A minimum of SPF 15 is recommended year-round to help protect your skin from harmful UV rays. You’ll need to make sure your SPF product protects from both UVA and UVB rays. The SPF number only is a guide for the blocking of UVB rays, but there is no FDA rating system of UVA rays, yet. So, when looking for a sunscreen that blocks both UV rays, make sure the bottle says Broad Spectrum or look for ingredients like Titanium, Zinc, Avobenzone, and Oxybenzone.
If you’re not sure about how to adapt your skincare routine for fall and winter, schedule a consultation with a Reno dermatologist.