OSEMONT, Ill., Feb. 6, 2024 -- A recent American Academy of Dermatology survey revealed that nearly one in five adults are not aware that you can get sunburned during the winter, and even fewer protect themselves from the sun before common outdoor activities in cold weather.
According to the survey, one in seven Americans are unaware that the sun's UV rays are reflected by snow, water, and sand.
"Many people don't realize that you need to use sun protection in the winter," said Dawn Davis, MD, FAAD, a board- certified dermatologist and professor of dermatology at Mayo Clinic Rochester. "It's easy to get sunburned during colder months because snow reflects the sun's damaging rays."
Only 13% of Americans plan to use sun protection when going for walks or hikes in cold weather. Four percent plan for it when shoveling snow, and only 6% during outdoor games, exercise, or sports in cold weather.
"Sun protection is vitally important because ultraviolet (UV) rays are always present, regardless of the season or time of day," said Dr. Davis. "Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun's harmful UV rays can penetrate the clouds. If you do not protect yourself, UV light increases your risk of skin cancer and can prematurely age your skin."
Skin cancer is one of the most common and easily preventable forms of cancer. At least one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Unprotected sun exposure can also cause skin aging, such as wrinkles and age spots.
To protect yourself from the sun and reduce your risk of skin cancer, the AAD and Dr. Davis recommend that people:
Seek shade: Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun's rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You can also look at your shadow. Any time your shadow appears shorter than you, seek shade.
Wear sun-protective clothing: Wear a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection, when possible. For more effective protection, select clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number on the label.
Apply sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. Remember to reapply every two hours or after sweating.
"My sun protection habits for winter and summer don't change very much," said Dr. Davis. "If I'm outdoors in the winter, I'm wearing a thick coat, gloves, and cap on my head that block the UV rays. I also make sure that I wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 on sun-exposed areas of my body, like my face and neck. I wear sunglasses that offer UVA/UVB protection year-round. If I am not wearing a cap for thermal protection, then I wear a wide-brimmed hat."
People should be mindful that sunscreen expires and look for the expiration date on the bottle, she said. Sunscreen is also temperature-sensitive and should not be exposed to extreme heat or extreme cold, because it will be less effective in protecting you from the sun.
"It's important to remember that dermatologists are the experts in the detection and prevention of skin cancer," said Dr. Davis. "If you have a question about how to best protect yourself from the sun, make an appointment to see a board- certified dermatologist."
To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/findaderm.