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Should You Wear Sunscreen in the Winter?

By: Maggie Young

We all know to apply sunblock when we hit the beach in the summer, but our sunscreen use is at an all-time low in the winter. A dermatologist and functional medicine physician weighed in on how to protect yourself from the sun during those cold-weather months.

The verdict is in: sunscreen should be used year-round. “If the sun is in the sky, then we are recipients of UV radiation, which includes both UVA and UVB rays,” says dermatologist Holly Fritch. “Unless you are allergic to a preservative within the sunscreen or the chemical sunscreen, it is illogical not to be blocking the harmful UV at least to your face and ears in winter.” Regardless of the season, UV radiation may cause DNA mutations (which present themselves as freckles) that may lead to health issues and aging skin, so it’s important to protect yourself anytime you’re outside.

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sunscreen skincare

The Lowdown on Sunscreen

Unfortunately, not all sunscreen completely shields you from harmful rays. “In order to cover both UVA and UVB, the best choice in my opinion is a mineral-based sunscreen with zinc and titanium,” says Fritch. Most people think of SPF when they think of sunblock, but SPF actually only protects against UVB, and you need UVA protection as well to truly block out damaging rays. In addition, it’s important to read up and do your research about the sunscreen brands. Myrto Ashe, a functional medicine physician, recommends going to the Environmental Working Group cosmetic database or a website called I Read Labels For You to check on the safety of the ingredients in sunscreen options. “Most sunscreens contain carcinogenic or allergenic ingredients, as well as perfumes and other hormone disruptors,” says Ashe.

Peak Times to Apply

“The sun is going to be most dangerous at the summer solstice, so late in the winter, or early spring is going to be the worst time to get a sunburn,” says Ashe. Snowy conditions are another important time to apply as the snow acts as a mirror reflecting the rays onto you. In addition, cloudy days call for sunscreen as UV rays penetrate through clouds.

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Load Up on Antioxidants and Vitamins

Sunscreen isn’t the only way to protect yourself from the sun during the winter. “Follow a diet very high in antioxidants and carotenes from plant foods,” says Ashe. “This means hopefully most colors of the rainbow each day, including yellow, orange, red, purple, green, and brown (such as mushrooms and cauliflower).” This type of diet leads to a decreased risk in burns. Protect yourself from the inside out by following a nutrient-rich diet to supplement your sunscreen protection methods.

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