Do you know if you need a sunscreen in winter and after 4pm? How about in the morning when the sun feels soft and is delightful - do you need to sun protect your skin? Yes, you know that harsh mid-day summer sun causes sun damage to your skin but what about when the sun feels weaker, softer and doesn't really feel like it is burning your skin - is it still bad for you? These are common questions:
Do you know if you need sun protection in fall, winter and spring?
Do you need sun protection for morning and late afternoon exposure?
Do you need sunscreen at sunrise and sunset?
Will that sun cause wrinkles, age spots and skin cancer?
You've noticed that the sun feels weaker in the non-summer months and in the morning and afternoon.
Can sun damage your skin if it does not feel strong?
I see a lot of patients in my dermatology practice with tanned and wrinkled skin who tell me that because they walk or swim in the morning or during the non-summer months that they don’t need sunscreen or sun protective clothing. They think that they are safe because the sun feels weaker.
Yes, the sun is different in the fall, winter and spring than it is in the summer. The sunburn ray, called UVB, is less intense. But fall and winter sun still damage your skin to cause wrinkles, skin thinning, sun spots, pigment problems such as melasma, and skin cancer. The tan, darker age spots and wrinkles are your evidence.
The reason the sun is harmful to your skin all day and all year is that the intensity of UVA rays does not change significantly. If there is sunlight, there are UVA rays.
Yes, UVA is pretty much as intense in summer as it is in the rest of the year. It is also as intense at noon as it is in the morning and late afternoon.
This means that from sunup to sundown, January or July you're exposed to the same skin-damaging dose of UVA.
Plus, UVA penetrates your skin more deeply than UVB. This means that it causes significant and irreversible damage way down in the deeper parts of your skin. It is a main cause of wrinkles.
As if that's not enough bad news, your sunscreen SPF value doesn't give you enough info to know how well your product blocks UVA. You need to look for the words "Broad Spectrum" on any sunscreen product you plan to use. Even then, many products don't do a good job blocking the UVA rays, which is one of the biggest and most valid criticisms of sunscreens.
Wearing sunscreen every day all year round on exposed skin is the most powerful way to prevent premature skin aging, thinning and pigment skin problems.
My Sheer Strength Pure Physical SPF 30-50+ Sunscreens give you broad-spectrum trusted sun protection year-round. They have light-weight bases that are easy to wear every day. They are also non-irritating to even sensitive skin.
I personally love the Matte Tinted SPF 30+ for my face. It softens any complexion flaws and also contains iron oxide to help block visible light that can contribute to skin pigment problems such as melasma and age spots. I dust with my Powder SPF Refresh Sunscreen for additional iron oxide and to reapply SPF when I am outdoors for extended time.
I apply the Sheer Strength Water-Resistant Spray SPF 50+ on my neck, chest and back of my hands to protect these areas from the signs of skin aging. I find that this product never soils my collars or scarfs and dries to be imperceptible. Daily sunscreen is an important part of my skin care year-round, which is why I have the best products available.
I’m writing this post in September at the beginning of fall. I hope that it will help you plan great sun protection for your skin as we move into fall and winter. Don't slack off on your sun protection just because the sunburn ray is less intense and the sun feels less damaging. You need to take UVA seriously, which means you need really good sun protection from UVA.
UVA is bad for your skin!
It penetrates skin more deeply than the sunburn ray UVB.
It damages your skin by causing free radicals just like UVB does.
These free radicals cause a damage that leads to skin thinning (atrophy), which is what causes most of the wrinkles and skin fragility that we erroneously associate with aging (extrinsic aging from sun exposure of the skin as opposed in intrinsic aging). UVA damaged skin is thin, fragile, spotty, tears and bruises easily as you age and we can't reverse the damage. UVA is also linked to the development of skin cancers, including melanoma.
To reiterate, UVA damage is not easily reversible, which means prevention is really important.
Dermatologist's Top 4 Tips for The Best Year-Round UVA Sun Protection for Your Skin.
Tip # 1. Keep the sun off your skin with sun protective clothing and a full brim hat
Try to cover as much of your skin as possible with clothing. When it's not really hot outside this is easy to do. Fall and winter clothing may provide good protection. In hot climates, my preference is that you wear UPF 50 rated sun protective clothing for the best sun protection.
Ideally you want to wear clothes that protect your full arms and chest. These are areas where I see a lot of skin thinning from sun damage because most people like to wear short sleeved V-neck shirts.
Wear a UPF 50 sun hat to shade your skin when you are outdoors for an extended period of time. I wear my favorite bucket hat year-round when I am walking my dog, gardening or doing something else outdoors for more than a few minutes. Hats deflect an enormous amount of UV rays from directly hitting your skin. You still need sunscreen since the rays bounce but hats are key sun protection accessories to save your face, ears, scalp and neck skin from UV damage. Be sure to wear a full brim hat that protects your scalp too.
I love sun hats and price them right because I want you protected!
Tip # 2. Wear broad spectrum sunscreen every day on all exposed skin that’s left uncovered by clothing.
This includes your face, neck, ears and the back of your hands. Make sure your sunscreen product blocks UVA well. UVA blocking sunscreen are labeled with the term 'broad-spectrum'. Use only broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen.
Zinc oxide gives you the best trusted protection. Look for a product that lists 5% or more zinc oxide listed as an active ingredient. The best zinc oxide sunscreens are now invisible such as my:
- Sheer Strength Pure Physical Water Resistant SPF 50 Sunscreen for hands, neck and chest.
- Sheer Strength Pure Physical Matte Tinted Creme SPF 30 Sunscreen for facial protection.
Pro-tips about sunscreen:
Don't skimp on your sunscreen. Creating a trustworthy sunscreen is tricky and many mass-produced products use inexpensive chemical ingredients or use cheap raw ingredients that end up contaminated with toxic chemicals like benzene. This is why I stick with a small group of products that I’ve seen work over and over for my patients and my family. I've done hundreds of thousands of skin exams and I see the evidence of sunscreen failure all too often. You need a product that you can trust especially with fall and winter's UVA because this UV ray doesn't cause a quick sunburn and it may take weeks to figure out that your product is letting UVA through.
Don't rely on a facial moisturizer that claims SPF. I don’t recommend that you rely on a facial moisturizer or makeup for UVA protection because most don't do a good job. They may be labeled with an SPF value but remember the SPF tells you mostly about UVB protection - does it say 'broad spectrum'?? Plus, you use a moisturizer to moisturize so you may not put enough on to get the full SPF.
Tip # 3. Add high concentration antioxidant skin care products to your facial skin care routine and apply them every day.
Scientific studies have shown that applying highly concentrated antioxidants to your skin really does reduce UV damage. The best are the green tea polyphenols. There is no regulation on these products though meaning any skin cream or serum can make grand claims about containing antioxidants yet include only a minute ‘fairy dusting’ concentration that doesn’t do anything. A recent study of sunscreen products with added antioxidants showed that the incidental amounts added to those products did not provide free radical protection and had no antioxidant power when tested in the laboratory.
That said, with the right antioxidant products, I’ve seen my patients get real results (fewer precancerous lesions for me to treat during their checkups). The best skin care antioxidant for fighting sun damage is the EGCG green tea polyphenols and you can't get a higher concentration than in my Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy. I wear it on my face, neck and chest daily and never travel without it.
Tip # 4. Don’t forget to seek the shade year-round to sun protect your skin.
As the weather gets colder it’s so tempting to want to sit in the direct sun, but only do that with sun protective clothing and sunscreen on. Keep your skin out of the sun as much as possible. Remember that UV rays bounce off pavement, sand, snow, rocks, buildings etc. If you’re getting a tan you’re exposed.
It is also Important not to listen to people who tell you to get non-summer, morning or afternoon sun to prevent vitamin D deficiency
Remember, UVA doesn’t make vitamin D in your skin which means that morning or afternoon sun and non-summer sun won't boost your vitamin D.
Resist that false advice to get year-round sun exposure for your vitamin D production. Most places in the world only have enough UVB rays during the summer to make meaningful vitamin D in your skin. Even then, I don't recommend using your skin as a vitamin D factory because it gives doctors like me job security. Vitamin D is pretty complex and I always recommend talking to your personal doctor for advice. To read more about my opinion on vitamin D and the sun click here to read my article Vitamin D and Sun Exposure
You need a sunscreen after 4pm and during fall and winter and I make it easy.
Fight sun damage skin year-round with patient proven skin care products:
I'm a dermatologist whose taken care of sun loving Californians for over 35 years and this is how I take care of my skin year-round - even fall, winter, morning and after 4pm!
Ex vivo evaluation of radical sun protection factor in popular sunscreens with antioxidants, Steven Q. Wang, MD et. al., Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2011;65:525-30