4 Reasons Why You Still Need to Apply Sunscreen in the Winter

Sun protection is a year-round commitment with a worth-it reward: much younger-looking skin. Discover a perfect winter formula (we'll help) and you'll actually want to use it.

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Here's exactly why you should still use sunscreen in the winter.

1. Your Defenses May Be Down

When the temperature dips, air loses moisture — and so does your skin. Dryness, in turn, can increase your risk of damage.

"Skin that's chafed or cracked has a broken barrier," says Julie K. Salmon, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Creighton University School of Medicine in Phoenix.

That makes skin more prone to infection and irritation. By using a moisturizer with SPF daily, you can block incoming UV light and hold on to more moisture. "If you're not outside much, not very active, and not so sun sensitive, it's OK to apply broad-spectrum sunscreen just once in the morning," says Salmon.

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2. There's No Off-Season for UV

You may not feel the sun as much right now, but look up — it's still there. UVB rays, the ones that burn, are less intense at this time of year, but UVA, the longer wavelengths that accelerate skin's aging and contribute to skin cancers, are still coming at you as strong as they were during the warmer months.

"On a winter morning, you can get nearly as much UVA exposure as you would on a summer day," says Salmon.

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These rays cut right through clouds, and if there's snow on the ground, you have a good chance of getting a double dose of UV: Experts say white underfoot reflects nearly 80 percent of UV radiation. (For some perspective, sand reflects only about 15 percent.)

3. You Get Some Exposure Indoors, Too

Those UVA rays are so strong they can penetrate right through un-tinted glass in your home, office, and car (windshields filter some of them; side windows, less).

"Plus, we now know that visible light from lamps and overhead fixtures can activate pigment-producing cells," says Rebecca Kazin, MD, associate director of Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery.

That means if you're prone to brown spots, you can get them just from sitting inside all day. Sunscreen can help protect your skin from visible light, but you need to pick the right kind.

4. The Damage Is Cumulative

A quick five-minute walk to grab lunch, the 10 minutes you spend clearing snow off your car, your 20-minute daily drive to work — these little moments outside can add up. Don't I need to get vitamin D from the sun? you ask. While it's true we get some from UVB rays (our bodies don't make the vitamin unless bare skin is exposed to the sun), you can also get D through a D3 supplement if your levels are low. They can be checked with a simple blood test, says Sancy Leachman, MD, PhD, director of the Melanoma Research Program at the Knight Cancer Institute.

Find Your Winter-Friendly Formula

For everyone: To help skin hang on to its moisture this time of year, we all need a broad-spectrum SPF 30 with hydrators like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, or barrier-strengthening ingredients like niacinamide and colloidal oatmeal. Apply generously, says Kazin. "There should be a visible layer on your skin that needs to be rubbed in."

For sensitive types: Chemical filters (avobenzone and oxybenzone, for example) can irritate skin that's already been beaten up by cold, dry air and wind. Zinc oxide, a physical filter, blocks UVA and UVB rays like chemicals do but is less irritating. And there's a bonus: This mineral protects against visible light, too.

For sneaky spots: Shield hands with a moisturizer offering broad-spectrum protection. Lips are another forgotten zone. "Inflammation from dryness plus UV radiation is like a double hit for thin lip skin," Leachman says. Swipe on a clear balm. They work alone or under your lipstick.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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