Winter Skin Alert: Wear Sunscreen

It's cold in winter, so you don't need sunscreen, right? Wrong. Actually, you need it more. In the winter, the sun is closer to the earth and its rays are even stronger. Although it's true that you're outside for less time and are more bundled up when you are, your face and hands are still exposed to harmful rays. The unfortunate message from dermatologists everywhere is that if you don't wear sunscreen year-round, you are more vulnerable to getting brown spots, fine lines and wrinkles on your hands and face. To minimize such damage, experts say to use a product with an SPF of at least 15.

Here are some more tips to improve your sunscreen savvy this season:

  • Choose a sunscreen that protects you from UVA and UVB rays. There are two kinds of ultraviolet rays that reach the earth's surface: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). Both UVA and UVB rays cause your skin to show signs of sunburn and age, but many sunscreens only protect you from UVB rays. Make sure the sunscreen you buy contains ingredients that protect you from both. (The ingredient Parsol 1789, for example, filters out A and B.)

  • Wear it, wear it, wear it '- indoors and out. Okay, so you bought the sunscreen. That's not good enough. Even if you're inside, ultraviolet exposure can occur through windows and cause skin problems over the years. Many people have extra sun damage on the left side of the face because of sun exposure through the driver's-side car window, notes Dr. Barbara Reed, a dermatologist in Denver. Even at your sunny office desk, you could be absorbing harmful radiation.

  • Begin with a product you love. You may have to pay a little more for a sunscreen that's formulated for your face. It's worth it. These products are usually noncomedogenic, so they won't clog pores; they're lightweight and absorb quickly. Remember, the nicer the product, the more likely you are to use it.

  • If you plan to play in the snow... keep in mind that you face increased exposure to ultraviolet rays. Snow reflects about 80 percent of the ultraviolet light that hits it. Compounding the problem, for every 1,000 feet of elevation, ultraviolet exposure increases about 2 percent. So if you're out skiing, skating, mountain climbing or sledding, you need at least an SPF 30 to protect against the added exposure. According to Face Works Day Spa owner Susie Galvez, a day on the slopes calls for a heavy oil-based moisturizer and sunscreen '- even if you have oily skin. "You need to keep skin hydrated and create a barrier between your skin and the elements," she explains. And watch out for water-based foundations, she notes. In freezing temperatures, they can actually freeze on your face and cause redness and irritation.

  • When you fly, slather it on. If you're traveling this winter, don't forget to carry a small bottle of sunscreen with you. Your SPF may be in your suitcase on its way to an island paradise, but where you really need it is on the plane. The higher you are in the sky, the more UV radiation you're exposed to. That means the more potential you have for skin damage. Apply a sunscreen of SPF 30 all over your face before leaving the gate.

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