Sunscreen season is year-round

December 1, 2007

Suncreen protection is necessary all year, due to the sun's reflection of UVR from snow.

Key Points

You may have packed away your bikini several months ago, but hopefully you didn't stash your sunscreen in your medicine cabinet, waiting for the warm weather to return. Sunscreen is now a year-round necessity, and it may be time to take yours out of mothballs.

Unbeknownst to many people, in the early or late winter, you are still at risk from the sun's ultraviolet rays (UVR). Therefore, it's just as important to practice good sun protection during periods of extended outdoor exposure, especially when snow skiing or ice skating or even building a snowman on a cold, clear winter day. The fact is, snow strongly reflects UVR. If you generally head south for a winter break, your sunscreen should be packed in with all your vacation gear. The truth is, there is no vacation time from your sunscreen.

It is also important to use your sunscreen correctly and in the right amount for true effectiveness. Did you know that to achieve the SPF value listed on the sunscreen container you have to apply 2 mg of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin? This is actually a very large amount. Most people apply about 0.5 to 1.5 mg per square centimeter, and they also apply it unevenly, reducing their protection to between one-fifth and one-half of the SPF stated on the container. That means you think you're getting the full SPF 15 that's listed on the product, but in fact you're only getting an SPF of 3 to 7. So here's what you need to know:

Also, it's time to stop playing around with the concept of a "healthy" tan. Dermatologists have declared that tanning parlors and sunlamps are unsafe. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report in 2005 prepared by the National Toxicology Program (NTP). It says ultraviolet radiation from sunlamps and sun beds is "known to be a human carcinogen." So, why risk it?

Speak with a dermatologist about what SPF is right for your skin color and family or medical history. If you've had skin cancer, you may need a higher level of protection - a sunblock instead of a sunscreen. Wearing sun-protective clothing is also a good bet.

Now, if after all is said and done, you still don't feel complete without a sun-kissed look, investigate local day spas or salons that offer spray-on tans. Applied correctly, they look just like the real thing, and only you will be the wiser. And that's in more ways than one!