Don’t pack away the sunblock with your swimsuit and other summer accessories: Winter’s sun is just as dangerous as summer’s.
The snow reflects the glare of the sun—and the damaging UV rays—so even if you live in a white winter wonderland, that’s no excuse to skimp on sunscreen. And if you plan to visit a cold climate for activities such as skiing and snowboarding, remember that for every 1,000 feet you ascend above sea level, you get 4 to 5 percent more UV damage.
And then there are all those holiday cruises and escapes to warm-weather climates where beaches are packed year-round. It’s not OK to lie baking in the sun for hours, even if it’s just one week out of the winter.
Earlier this year, the surgeon general predicted 9,000 people would die from melanoma this year—that’s preventable. No matter how comfortable or cool the temperature feels, don’t be fooled. If skin cancer doesn’t scare you, think with your vanity. Sun exposure is the No. 1 cause of wrinkles, discoloration, age spots, and festoons, among other disfiguring problems.
Here are some of my tips to prevent, minimize, and repair sun damage.
You’re not just exposed when you’re skiing, hiking, or taking a beach vacation. Any time you go outside, you’re exposing yourself to damaging UVB and UVA rays, and the result is cumulative. Walking into the office, checking the mail, stopping for coffee—a little bit here and there adds up.
And even if you park in a garage and use the drive-thru, simply driving a car can result in serious sun damage. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found more skin cancers on the left side of patients’ faces—the side exposed while driving—than the right. I’ve seen truckers and others who spend years on the road with severe wrinkling on the left side of the face.
You should always wear sunscreen, which protects against UVA and UVB rays. I recommend a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, preferably higher. You can also protect yourself from UVA rays, which cause deeper damage, by applying UV-protective film to your car windows. For the ultimate sun shield, wear clothes with an ultraviolet protection factor (UVP) rating of at least 30.
Good nutrition and topical products can help minimize signs of damage, such as wrinkles and age spots.
Eat foods rich in antioxidants—carrots and other yellow and orange fruits and vegetables; spinach and other green leafy vegetables; tomatoes; blueberries; peas and beans; fatty fish; and nuts. An American Society for Clinical Nutrition study found that women ages 40 to 75 who consumed more vitamin C had fewer wrinkles.
You can also use exfoliate creams to remove dead skin cells, as well as facial masks, serums, and other brightening and tightening products to help reduce wrinkles and age spots caused by sun exposure.
Lasers can resurface facial skin by stripping away the outermost layers. Some “non-ablative” lasers also stimulate collagen formation, which helps smooth wrinkles.
For example, I use RESET Laser Skin Resurfacing in my practice, which reverses the damage and removes many pre-cancers and even active skin cancer. The treatment vaporizes the old skin and causes the collagen in the underlying layers to tighten.
Topical treatments—particularly those containing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, rosehip, or apple fruit extract, can also work wonders on damaged skin. Using a face cleanser with these natural ingredients can help gently fade sun spots and wrinkles, while also cleaning and hydrating skin.
Starting today, the best thing you can do for your skin is to make the application of a broad spectrum sunscreen part of your daily routine. Apply it to all areas of the skin that can be directly exposed to the sun—this includes not only your face, but also areas like your neck, chest, and shoulders. . The best scenario is preventing sun damage in the first place.