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Can You Get a Sunburn in the Winter?

Dr. James Goydos - Board Certified physician and surgical oncologist with a MD from Rutgers and 20+ years in academics and healthcare.

Melanoma knows no season. You can still get skin damage in the winter.

Melanoma knows no season. You can still get skin damage in the winter.

Winter is coming. It’s not just a memorable phrase from Game of Thrones but is a great reminder about the season change. One can never be too prepared when it comes to the weather.

Changes in weather can come with all sorts of adjustments, not only differences in temperature. Weather changes often mean one should make changes in their daily routine to accommodate. Some may be obvious—like swapping out your sandals for snow boots—but others may not be so apparent. When it comes to health care routines, these are often not top of mind for most.

Changes in Weather Don’t Just Mean Changing Your Clothes for Seasonal Temps

While the weather may cool and merit trading your short sleeves for sweater vests, there are other important considerations to make when the seasons change. Seasonal changes also mean changes in the intensity and duration of ultraviolet radiation (UV) to which the skin is vulnerable during the day. In the summer, days are longer, and nights are shorter, meaning that those outdoors (and indoors, too) may be more vulnerable to harmful exposure. And yes, you read that right. You can be exposed to UV radiation both indoors and outdoors. In the winter, the days may be shorter and the nights may be longer, but the skin is still vulnerable to the sun’s rays—especially where there is snow present.

You Can Still Get a Sunburn in the Snow

Snow reflects UV radiation, which means that UVA and UVB rays can hit the skin twice. UVC rays from the sun are absorbed through the Earth’s ozone layer, but can still be absorbed via artificial lamps or lasers. UVA and UVB rays are a double whammy in the winter: they hit the skin once when the sun hits the skin directly, then can hit the skin a second time when the UV radiation bounces off of the snow.

Both snow and ice can reflect UV radiation, meaning that, even in the absence of a fresh layer of snow, one should still apply sunscreen to shield the skin. Skin is the largest organ in the human body, and its health is essential to maintaining overall health.

“Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer affecting humans and is one of the most preventable types of cancer through education and public awareness.” – Dr. James Goydos

Protecting Against Skin Cancer Means Shielding the Eyes and the Lips, Too

Protecting the skin is an important part of skin cancer prevention, and practicing sun safety is a great way to start. Exposure to harmful levels of UV radiation is one of the several factors which can increase one’s likelihood of developing skin cancer. There are simple steps you can take to reduce your exposure that aren’t just applying sunscreen.

Adding UV protective clothing to your wardrobe is another powerful way to shield your skin. Many top fashion brands offer UV protective clothing. It is similar to SPF, or ‘sun protection factor’ with sunscreen. UPF stands for ‘ultraviolet protection factor’, and is the proper term to use when discussing fabrics that help shield the skin from UV rays. Most cotton shirts will only give a small amount of skin protection from the sun, as the weave is often loose. This means the sun’s rays can easily peek through and penetrate the skin. With UV protective clothing, the weave is often tighter and made from a special fabric which provides a further barrier.

When we think of skin cancer, it is common to think only of the body, but the eyes and lips are important to care for, too. Consider wearing UV protective sunglasses to shield your skin and your eyes. Ocular melanoma, while rare, is one of the most common cancers of the eyes in adults. The lips should also not be neglected when it comes to protecting the skin. Adding a lip balm with SPF can not only help keep the lips moisturized in dry air but can add an extra layer of protection against the sun’s rays.

The season of snow is almost here. Prepare for the season by keeping up your sunscreen habit, and adding some new ones to your skincare routine. Your skin will thank you!

Why Should You Listen to Me?

Dr. James Goydos is a surgical oncologist and is an expert in melanoma and soft tissue tumors. No stranger to understanding skin cancer, he has over 20 years of experience in the medical field, working as a Professor of Surgery at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and serving as Chief of Melanoma and Soft Tissue Oncology at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

Passionate about raising awareness of the risks of skin cancer, Goydos understands the impact that education can have on skin protection habits and cancer screening. Many individuals may be unaware of the risks posed by skin cancer, and the effect that healthy skincare habits can have on reducing one's risk of developing melanoma or identifying skin cancers early.

For some types of cancer, early detection could mean the difference between something that is treatable and something which may not be operable by the time it is detected.

Simple habits like applying sunscreen and doing monthly self-skin checks can make a world of difference.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.