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Sunscreen Alert - why you need sunscreen in winter!

Is a Solution for:
Sun Protection for Face, Sun Protection for Body
February 15, 2012 Reviewed by admin 14 Comments
It seems like I've been having the same conversation every year…for years. When I inquire about a clients' home-care regimen and ask what sunscreen he or she uses, it's amazing how many clients have replied "oh, I wear such-and-such sunscreen in the summertime". I often get a blank look when I ask why he or she isn't wearing sunscreen now - during the winter season.  Another typical response includes, "I'm in the office all day so I never see the light of day." Recently, when a friend of mine (who should know better) looked at me as if I was crazy for even asking about SPF when it's freezing outside, I knew it was high time to break down the ABC's of UV rays and it's daily affects.

The sun emits 3 types of UV (ultraviolet) rays: A, B & C. Let's focus on the rays we can do something about so forget about UVC (for now). UVC (short wave) rays are fatal, and were the ozone layer not blocking those rays, you wouldn't be reading this article. While we know that the ozone layer is depleting, it's best left to scientific minds to worry about UVC radiation.

UVB (medium wave) rays from the sun are also mostly filtered out by the ozone layer. We know about these rays because we literally feel them, as they cause the skin to burn. The bad news is that UVB rays not only cause sunburn, according to the EPA, UVB is particularly effective at damaging DNA. It causes skin melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Furthermore, exposure to UVB rays can compromise the immune system as demonstrated in a US study on how UVB rays can trigger herpes cold sores. Moreover, UVB rays cause the dreaded "sunspots" or freckles that often show up on our skin later in life. All those hours of fun in the sun often result in thousands of hard earned dollars spent during many painful minutes under an IPL laser with the hopes of erasing those unsightly spots.

Nevertheless, UVB is a source for Vitamin D, which our bodies need but does not produce. Vitamin D can be obtained from certain foods (the preferred source) or exposure to UVB light. However, according to the World Health Organization(WHO), 5 to 15 minutes of casual sun exposure two to three times a week is sufficient to keep your vitamin D levels high. If you're closer to the equator, even shorter periods of exposure suffice.

UVA (long wave) rays from the sun are not absorbed by the ozone layer and make up 98.7% of UV radiation that reaches the Earth's surface. The long UVA rays penetrate the skin at a deeper level than UVB and damage collagen & elastin, compromising the skins' structural support which results in droopy, crepey skin. UVA rays are the major cause of photoaging or premature aging -the operative word here being "premature." Per the EPA, up to 90 percent of visible skin changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. With proper sun protection, most premature aging of the skin can be avoided!

If you aren't concerned with the esthetic effects of UVA than hopefully the health effects will cause you to take notice. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UVA contributes to and may even initiate the development of skin cancers. What's worse, most of us are exposed to large amounts of UVA throughout our lifetime because they are 30 to 50 times more prevalent than UVB rays.  UVA rays are the same strength year round and penetrate clouds & glass making UVA rays much more insidious than UVB rays. That means you still need to wear sunscreen while driving to and from work on a rainy day.

Notice I only mentioned UV rays from the sun thus far. Think you're safe indoors? As Marta mentioned in a previous post "Even those that shy away from the sun should be cautious." Research from the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health showed that although indoor workers typically receive 3 to 9 times less UV exposure than those outdoors, only the indoor group had an increased incidence of malignant skin cancer."  Don't work in the corner office with the fabulous view? Most UVA light is also emitted by fluorescent lamps due to the peak emission of mercury within the bulb. According to the FDA, other sources of UV rays include mercury vapor lighting often found in stadiums and school gyms. All fluorescent tubes used for domestic and commercial lighting are mercury UV emission bulbs at heart. Yes, I even wear sunscreen when I attend New York Ranger hockey games.

What's even more alarming is that the incidents of skin cancer have increased approximately 300% over the last 15+ years according to the Archives of Dermatology.  The latest Skin Cancer Foundation figures confirm that skin cancer, the world's most common cancer, is truly an epidemic. 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of a lifetime. How is this possible when  we currently have unprecedented access to sunscreen? In my view, there are 2 primary reasons: UVA is the most commonly encountered type of UV light, and the ozone layer is slowly depleting, thereby enabling more UVB rays to reach the earth's surface.

Do you need to run from the sun? No, but being aware of how much sun exposure you actually receive and counteracting it by protecting yourself with a daily  "broad spectrum" sunscreen is key.  It's important to keep in mind that Sun Protection Factor (SPF) only addresses UVB rays, meaning the average amount of time you can be exposed to UVB rays before burning. Think of it this way: A is for 'aging' rays & B is for 'burning' rays - but both cause skin cancer! Only within the last few years have US manufacturers started formulating "broad spectrum" sunscreens to address both UVA & UVB rays. Unfortunately, the active UVA blocking ingredients used in the US are often avobenzone & oxybenzone. Check this out on Neutrogena before you slather on sunscreens with those ingredients.  The best sun protection options in the US are sunscreens with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide which are both very effective physical blockers.

I hope that the above will encourage you to wear sunscreen daily, both from a health & esthetic viewpoint. And for those inclined to go the extra mile, read on about how antioxidants make sunscreen even better!

  • February 19, 2012

    by Marta

    Hi Annie, vitamin C is unstable in light and is rendered useless the minute the bottle is open. However, decent products will use a stabilized form of vitamin C. There's a primer on vitamin C and the various forms here: <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>

  • February 19, 2012

    by Annie

    One more question if that's ok. Somehow i thought you were supposed to wear vit c at night as it reacts with sunlight. Have i understood this wrongly? Many thanks

  • February 18, 2012

    by annie

    Hi Nisha, thank you so much for your comprehenisve reply, very appreciated. I make my vit c either with water and glycerine or added to YBF antioxidant serum, as recommended by them. It's interesting though that you say the yellowish colour may be due to the wrong PH of the serum, useful to know..

    Regarding vit d, I too take a daily vit d supplement but in the summer i just lie out in the sun for ten mins a few times a week before burning to also get vit d from the sun which I think should be ok.

  • February 17, 2012

    by Nisha Buckingham

    Hi Patti,

    Unfortunately, there aren’t many alternatives for a lip product with SPF so you need to try to not eat off the lip protectant and aim to re-apply the product to your lips often.

    Consider applying an organic antioxidant to your lips (mainly on the outer edges and please be sure NOT to ingest!) a half hour before you go out in the sun – that should help boost your UV protection. Try Juice Beauty Antioxidant serum, which comes with a dropper, making it easier to target product application and has a soothing, moisturizing formulation. (I’d recommend applying it on the face, neck & décolleté while you’re at it).

    Also, have you considered trying out a dark(ish) lip stain? The pigment won’t be as easy to eat off and should provide some (admittedly low) level of physical protection but is better than no protection. Maybe you can combine that with the anti-oxidant; apply the lip stain a half hour AFTER applying the anti-oxidant. Once the stain sets, top off with an SPF lip balm and avoid any yummy flavors that will encourage you to eat it off. Hope this helps.

  • February 17, 2012

    by Nisha Buckingham

    Hi Annie,
    I addressed your question regarding Vit C in the Comments section here:

    As far as obtaining Vit D exclusively from the sun – I wouldn’t advise it. I strongly recommend using sunscreen on all areas of the body not shielded with clothing.
    Moreover, sun-sourced Vit D only during the summertime is not enough to sustain the body’s Vit D requirements year round.
    Per the American Academy of Dermatology, “the risk of developing skin cancer from ultraviolet (UV) radiation far outweighs the benefit of stimulating vitamin D production – particularly when enriched foods and supplements are safe and effective sources of this vitamin.” I obtain Vit D through a daily supplement (1000 IU) as well as food sources like dairy products (e.g. ice cream) and fish. I have been tested intermittently for Vit D over the years and have never had a Vit D deficiency.
    Please see this link for more info:

    As far as whether physical sunscreens are carcinogenic, the EWG have deemed both titanium dioxide & zinc oxide to have limited or no evidence of carcinogenicity. I’d stick to sunscreens with those two ingredients. The instances where these ingredients are likely to be carcinogenic are when they are aerosolized (airborne). Sunscreen in spray form is convenient but just not worth the risk. Again, the risk of skin cancer from UV radiation is much higher than the risk of cancer from using a physical sunscreen, so I wouldn’t eschew sunscreen. For the body, I like Blue Lizard SPF 30+ but only the “Sensitive” or “Baby” formulations.

  • February 16, 2012

    by Anna

    Not "rare" but undiagnosed and very likely people died from other causes before developing skin cancer, given the average life span.
    My choice is zinc oxide because it blocks both UVA and UVB without being a photosensitizer.

  • February 16, 2012

    by Rufus Greenbaum

    If you take a large amount of Vitamin D as a supplement you will reduce your chance of melanoma from UV rays

    Also, if you have very fair skin you will increase the time that you can stay in the sun before your skin begins to turn pink

    Check this out at:

    Dr John Cannell mentions this specifically in his book "Athlete's Edge"

  • February 15, 2012

    by Patti

    I wear sunblock everyday, plus face make-up with minerals that work as a sunblock (I have a pure mineral sunblock that I use when I do outdoor activities- zinc, I think). I have fair skin and get burned easily, but I've been told by every dermatologist to use sunblock, and I have for the past 12 years. I am 42 years old, and often get told I look much younger. Could it be the sunblock? I won't give it up to find out, because both my parents have issues with skin cancer from sun exposure!
    My biggest problem is keeping my lips protected, as I have a bad habit of eating off whatever I put on there, so I've been sunburned on my lips when the rest of my face is fine.

  • February 15, 2012

    by Sueblittle

    I have used sunscreen on my face very faithfully since I was in my 20's--after my dermatologist told me to start wearing it. I am out in the sun very regularly--in Texas--and have very few "age spots" or damage on my face--but I haven't watched out for my hands, and I can see a huge difference! So, its critical, to avoid skin damage, to apply sunscreen to your face, neck and hands every day. You can get sun damage even when you are just driving to work or school.

  • February 15, 2012

    by Sandy

    Thanks, Marta, for the link. All the more reason for me to use my LED device.

  • February 15, 2012

    by Marta

    I just found a study that concluded that LED light prior to sun exposure provides significant protection against UVB <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>

  • February 15, 2012

    by Sandy

    Nisha, as always, wonderful review, full of great information and well-written. I wear sunscreen year 'round and have since high school (I'll turn 50 this year). People think I'm in my late 30s. I get some Vitamin D from the sun, but I take it in pill form as well, so I'm not worried about that. Also, TruthInAging has information on a number of suncreens that do not have carcinogens. And I've ordered the Replenix CF Serum! Thanks, again.

  • February 15, 2012

    by annie

    Hi NIsha, I have a question for you regarding vitamin c if that's ok. Sorry it's off topic. As I'm on a budget I make my own vit c serum every three days. I have used skinceuticals C E & ferulic acid in the past but cant afford it at present. I know the skinceuticals vit c is in a stable form. Does the stable form apply not only for storage in the bottle but also for on the skin too? I ask because when I wash my face in the morning after applying the vit c at night my wash clot turns a slight yellow colour which I presume is oxidised vit c. So i am concerned the vit c could be oxidsing on my face and would the skinceuticals stable form vit c not do this?

    Many thanks for your time and help.

    Regarding suncreen, I do try and get sun on my body in the summer as I read the vit d from sunwas the best form, but still protect my face with sunscreen. i use physical sunscreen as I presume they are not carcogenic. AM I right?

  • February 15, 2012

    by Dr Ian Clements

    Well, I never use sunscreen - Winter or Summer.

    Because (a) I need Vit.D, best derived from the Sun; (b) sunscreens contain carcinogens.

    It is noticeable that skin cancer has grown with the great use of sun-screens and covering up. That skin cancer used to be rare - when people were out-doors more and didn't use sunscreens.

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