A dermatologist explains why sunscreen is vital, even during the winter months
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When winter jackets come on, the daylight hours shorten, and the skies dim with snow-filled clouds, we tend to think we can relax on our sun protection. After all, we’re indoors most of the season and wearing thick layers when we do emerge from our igloos, er, homes. While this is true, the sun’s powerful rays don't just disappear during winter, even though it feels that way in most places in the U.S., and you’ll want a loyal SPF on deck to protect exposed skin (however little there may be) throughout these chilly months.
To better understand why sun protection is often overlooked—but shouldn’t be—in the winter, we consulted Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, a dermatologist based in New York City.
At the most basic level, you need sun protection during the winter because the sun is still out. “Everyone thinks the temperature is lower, which means the sun is weaker, but that’s not really the case,” says Nussbaum. The sun’s damaging rays are twofold: UVA rays are the ones linked to premature aging, while UVB rays are the one responsible for sunburns. The UVB rays, which are the ones that are related to sunscreen’s SPF, are weaker during the winter months, because the earth is tilted away from the sun on its axis. Still, it is possible to get a sunburn from these rays in winter, especially if you're at a high altitude where there is less of the earth's atmosphere to block the sun, or if the rays are reflecting off of snow and ice.
UVA rays, however, can reach your skin even when you’re sitting at your desk and light is flooding in the windows, as well as when you go outside, however briefly, on that morning coffee run. “You’re still getting UVA rays, even if in smaller amounts,” says Nussbaum. “Over the course of time, it truly adds up.” For these reasons, it’s important to choose a product with “broad-spectrum” protection, which is proven to reduce cumulative sun exposure linked to signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, and skin cancer.
If you, like many others, suffer from parched skin in the winter, you’ll want to swap out your summer sunscreen for one that promises to moisturize. Look for products made for the face that include broad-spectrum protection and claim to help dry skin with moisturizing ingredients. Apply your SPF after moisturizing and before applying makeup, if that’s part of your routine.
Here are five top-reviewed products, from lightweight to heavy moisturization, worth considering:
This lightweight lotion protects your skin from UVA and UVB rays and moisturizes with antioxidant oatmeal. One Aveeno reviewer writes: “I love this product!! Every time I use it, it makes me feel like I'm doing something great for my skin, along with protecting it from the UV rays. I'm very impressed!”
This lotion, which has a gel-like consistency, provides broad-spectrum protection and claims to quench the skin’s thirst for up to eight hours with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin. “I absolutely love this sunscreen,” one Target reviewer writes. “It is so lightweight, absorbs quickly, and is so silky smooth. I have never enjoyed the sensation of putting sunscreen on my face before trying this product.”
This moisturizer hydrates the skin and protects against free radicals using niacinamide, shea butter, and licorice root extract, while providing broad-spectrum coverage. One Paula’s Choice reviewer swears by it: “This is the best I have ever used. I love it because it is silky smooth, very effective and does not leave my face greasy. I haven't found a single other moisturizer with SPF 50 that can do this.”
This cream quickly absorbs into the skin to provide hydration with a thick and rich texture, anti-aging protection with antioxidants, and broad-spectrum sun protection. “All I can say is that I adore this and it lives up to its reputation,” one Amazon reviewer writes. “Yes, it is expensive, but it is completely worth it. It does not clog pores. It is not sticky or pasty. [It’s] very easy to apply. It feels like a good moisturizer.”
Supergoop’s cream provides broad-spectrum protection and claims to intensely moisturize the skin with blue-green algae and form a moisture barrier with plant fermentation. One Sephora reviewer loves the look on her skin: “Keeps my dry skin hydrated and looking fresh all day! So pretty on with or without face makeup. Best is it really works well as a sunscreen.”
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
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