Yes, You Need Sunscreen in Winter (+ How to Choose the Right One!)

  • 5 min read

It’s safe to say that all of us here in the Northern Hemisphere have traded our pina coladas for hot cocoa and bikinis for puffer jackets. As the days grow shorter (and chillier!) it’s tempting to wave adios to anything we associate with summertime – sunscreen included. 

And we completely understand; we’re not likely to see a day of full sun for months, after all! That said, assuming that if you can’t see the sun, it can’t see you is one potentially dangerous game of peekaboo.

Ahead, why wintertime sun protection is important and how to choose the right one for you!

Why Do I Need Sunscreen in Winter?

Two words: Ultraviolet. Light. UVA and UVB, to be specific.

To understand why sun protection is critical – even during the darker months – it’s important to understand the way different kinds of UV rays affect our skin.

The UVA and UVB acronyms stand forUltraviolet AandUltraviolet B.These terms refer to the invisible wavelengths of light produced by the sun (and tanning beds) that can damage the skin

Both UVA and UVB light compromise the skin’s integrity by directly attacking the DNA in its cells, restricting their natural regenerative processes and causing genetic mutations, which can lead to many undesirable conditions – anything from discoloration and premature aging to skin cancer. 

According to the  Skin Cancer Foundation, UVA’s longer wavelengths makes it a catalyst for more deeply originated photoaging, whereas the shorter wavelengths of UVB affect the superficial layers of the skin. (UVB is the light associated with sunburn.)

It may feel reasonable to assume that if the risk of sunburn is low, so too is your risk of sun damage, but that’s not really how it works! Although it’s true that your risk of damage from UVB rays is lower on very cloudy days (especially if you aren’t spending lots of time outside), UVA penetrates cloud cover, and evenglass, meaning any exposed skin is left vulnerable to photoaging and other damage – in some cases, even indoors!

What’s more, if your region is known to transform into a classicwinter wonderland, the Skin Cancer Foundation  warns that snow can reflect up to 80% of the sun’s UV light, meaning you’re absorbing nearly twice the UV impact.

Safety concerns aside, sunscreen can also help give your  winter skincare a boost by locking in natural moisture and moisturizing products!

How to Choose the Right Sunscreen for You

OK, we’ve established the importance of sun protection in winter; now what? 

With such a broad spectrum (pun intended) of sunscreen types and SPF levels, it can be difficult to decipher exactly which is right for you. 

For starters, you should  always choose sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30. After that, there are three primary types of sunscreen: chemical, mineral, and – most novel – oral.

What Is Chemical Sunscreen and How Does It Work?

Chemical sunscreenis so named because it contains chemical UV filters that, once absorbed into the skin, can take in and scatter UV rays and release them from the body as heat.

Pros and Cons of Chemical Sunscreen

Since chemical sunscreen tends to be lightweight, it can be easily spread across the whole body. Because it absorbs into the skin, it’s easier to apply with makeup and other facial skincare products. It’s also less likely to rub off onto clothes, providing cleaner wear and potentially longer protection.

The downside of chemical sunscreen is that itcan be irritating to sensitive skin. 

Common Objections Unique to Chemical Sunscreen

Chemicalmight sound scary – and some professionals do advise against use of chemical sunscreens, citing ingredients that (they say) are potentially harmful to human health. 

Thereis  research that has raised red flags on chemical sunscreens, but the conclusion is not (yet) that the ingredients are harmful – just that some of those chemicals are absorbed into the bloodstream at a rate that has scientists curious about the potential health effects.

Another common argument against chemical sunscreens is the purported harm that chemical UV filters – like oxybenzone and octinoxate – pose to marine life. 

“Ah, yes, so we just look for ‘reef safe’ products, right?”

We wish! Unfortunately, there is no regulatory standard that deems one product worthy of the ‘reef safe’ seal and not another. It’s on brands to decide what ingredients they will and won’t use, meaning that some products may bemorefriendly to water-dwellers than others, but there is no be-all, end-all definition for ‘reef safe’. 

Furthermore, while thereare  studies that have shown oxybenzone to cause distress to coral and other marine life, there are  some question marks around whether the (very high) concentrations used in the lab actually replicate the effects of real-life exposure (which is much, much less aggressive). This is worth serious consideration, but evidence is simply not yet conclusive.

What is Mineral Sunscreen and How Does It Work?

By contrast to its chemical cousin,  mineral sunscreen  (sometimes calledphysical sunscreen) does not absorb into the skin. It’s made up of mineral compounds (usually either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) that create a barrier layer on top of the skin that – if properly applied and reapplied – deflects UV rays before they enter the skin.

Pros and Cons of Mineral Sunscreen

Since its contents areso limited – and it doesn’t absorb into the skin – mineral sunscreen is less likely to cause irritation. In fact, the way mineral sunscreen reflects sunlight may actually be helpful in keeping skin cool and calm for people with rosacea or other conditions that tend to be exacerbated by heat.

On the flipside, mineral sunscreen is rather heavy, making it difficult to use in tandem with other skincare products. It’s also given to rub off, meaning it may be a bit messy if applied near clothing and frequent reapplication may be needed.

What is Oral Sunscreen and How Does It Work?

A relative newcomer to the sun protection game,oral sunscreenis a bit of a misnomer in that it isn’t intended to  replace  topical sun care products, but to  complement them. 

Oral photoprotection pills, like  Heliocare, are essentially supercharged antioxidant supplements that boost your body’s natural ability to fight free radicals caused by UV radiation. They are (increasingly)  backed by science and come highly recommended by some dermatologists – especially for clients who suffer from extreme skin photosensitivity.

Pros and Cons of Oral Sunscreen

Since oral sunscreen works at the cellular level, each pill protects the whole body evenly. It’s primarily plant-derived, completely non-toxic, and can help to protect skin and related systems from the negative effects of all kinds of free radicals – not just those created by UV radiation.

The most obvious con of oral sunscreen is that we can’t quantify it with a Sun Protection Factor, so – at least so far as we can tell right now – it can’t beat the protection you get from a topical sunscreen.

The way we care for our skin may change with the seasons in some ways, but one thing is for sure: sun protection – whatever method works best for you – is always in style. Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy, UV damage-free winter season!