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 do 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.
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, 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. Remember, when you depend on sunscreen alone you need a 'thick and sticky coat' every 2 hours, and that's hard to keep up with. Plus, a sunscreen's protection isn't perfect and neither is your application of it.
My preference is that you wear sun protective clothing for the best sun protection. Ideally you want to wear clothes that protect your full arms and chest too. 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.
During hot weather or outdoor athletic activities wear functional garments like ventilated sun protective shirts. If you are swimming, consider wearing a swim shirts and swim tights. Don’t skimp on yourself, create a wardrobe that really protects your skin. My favorite resource for sun protective clothing is Coolibar. Their fiber technology builds sun protection into the fibers. The protection lasts for the lifetime of the garment. I have a wardrobe full of Coolibar for hiking, gardening, swimming and my other outdoor activities. I use the Coolibar UPF 50 Sun Umbrella too. I am updating this post in 2020 on a holiday to visit a friend in Australian and what did I pack?? Coolibar! Yep, Coolibar has brilliant sun protection clothing and accessories that I always make room for in my suitcase.
If you want to make your own sun protective clothing the Sun Guard Laundry Treatment is very economical. It is a product you can wash into normal clothing to give it better sun protection for your skin. Did you know that most summer weight fabric is not really good for sun protection? Sun Guard lets you turn your tee shirts and other light weight fabric clothes into sun protective garments. I use Sun Guard when I want sun protection from an outfit that has a unique styling but that I know isn’t good enough to protect my skin. I sell Sun Guard because I love it so much.
Wear a UPF 50 sun hat when you are outdoors for an extended period of time. I wear a 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 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 these products. In my opinion, zinc oxide gives you the best trusted protection. Look for a product that lists 5% or more zinc oxide as an active ingredient. The best zinc oxide sunscreens are now invisible such as my Sheer Strength Pure Physical SPF 50+ Sunscreens.
Sunscreen formulation is still tricky though which is why I stick with a small group of products that I’ve seen work over and over for my patients and my family. Sunscreen product failure is all too common with other sunscreens, you need a product that you can trust especially with UVA because the 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 skimp on your sunscreen - trust your precious skin to only the best sunscreen because sun damage lasts for the rest of your lifetime and it is never entirely reversible.
I also 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. For UVA protection you want to look for the term 'broad spectrum' on the front of the product. Be deliberate about your daily application of sunscreen, use only a broad spectrum product so that you have the UVA protection you need to keep your skin healthy and strong.
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, vitamin C and E. 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.
With the right antioxidant products, I’ve seen my patients get real results (fewer precancerous lesions for me to treat during their checkups). These products are Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy and Vitamin C Professional Anti-WrinkleTreatment Serum. These are the products I trust and that I wear year-round.
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
I make it easy to sun protect your skin year-round with the right sunscreen and accessories. My SunSavvy Around Town Kit includes a hat and sunscreens.
My SunSavvy Ready 4 Fun Kit adds a Coolibar Umbrella
My SunSavvy Ultimate Kit includes water resistant sunscreens and Sun Guard.
All these kits provide the best mineral sunscreen for your lips and come with my neat UV Detecto Ring to test your UV exposure.
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
Photo: Thanks and Gratitude to JOPHIELsmiles