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Warm Winter Olympics All the Better for Sun Protection

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics - Coolibar

We’ve been keeping a close eye on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, if only to imagine what it’s like to slide down an ice-covered slope at 80-plus miles per hour on purpose. If you’ve been watching too, you likely saw something unexpected: temperatures topped 17 degrees C. in Sochi (that would be more than 60 degrees here at Coolibar headquarters near Minneapolis, MN, which hasn’t happened in a while). This is the Winter Olympics?

Especially as we look at these photos from February 12 in the Mail Online, we’re reminded once again how important it is to protect ourselves from the sun year round. In fact, sun protection is much easier to overlook during winter, when exposure tends to be more intermittent. UVA and UVB rays are always a danger for unprotected skin regardless of the temperature or time of year.

One of our heroes, Julia Mancuso – a US Olympic alpine skier who won a bronze medal February 10 in the Ladies Super Combined, which is an official name for “flying down an icy slope at 80 mph”– is already on top of it. Aware of the dangers, especially at higher altitudes with the sun reflecting off of snow, she shares her story and her tips for staying sun safe with the American Academy of Dermatology.

While sitting in the sun sure looks more fun than, say, missing a gate in the Olympic downhill, let’s remember to take care of ourselves. Here are our SunAWARE tips, good all year round:

SunAWARE tips

 

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SunAWARE

Snowboarders and Skiers Take Cover

TRUE or FALSE – you’re more likely to sunburn in a snowy landscape than a grassy plain. Think about it. Ultraviolet rays from the sun reflect off of shiny surfaces such as sand, water and SNOW! When walking into any ski resort chalet you’ll notice bright red faces of snowboarders and skiers fresh off the hill. Now the only question is, are the rosy cheeks and nose from windburn or sunburn?

Snowboarders and skiers have to protect themselves from more than frostbite. UV radiation exposure increases 8 to 10 percent every 1,000 feet above sea level, so if you’re snowboarding down the slopes of Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado, you could be starting your descent at almost 13,000 feet above sea level. By 13,000 feet, UV radiation exposure increases 104 to 130 percent! Then add the fact that snow reflects up to 80 percent of the UV light from the sun, and you’ve got UV coming from all directions. The combination of increased elevation and UV rays reflected by the snow puts skiers and snowboarders at an increased risk of sun damage, which can lead to premature aging and skin cancer later in life.

While wearing sunscreen on the snowy slopes can offer sun protection, snow and wind can reduce its effectiveness. Avoid sunburn (and perhaps even windburn) this winter and take some advice from the Skin Cancer Foundation.

  • Cover your head – it will protect your scalp and help keep you warm.
  • Wear items like ski masks, which will leave very little skin exposed to the wind and sun.
  • Sunglasses or goggles that offer 99 percent or greater UV protection and have wraparound or large frames will protect your eyes, eyelids and the sensitive skin around your eyes, which are common sites for skin cancers and sun-induced aging.
  • If possible, ski early in the morning and later on in the day, before 10 AM and after 4 PM. This decreases the amount of time spent outdoors in the most intense sunlight and it may also help you avoid long lines.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Apply 30 minutes before hitting the slopes. Using a moisturizing sunscreen with ingredients like lanolin or glycerin can soothe skin while protecting. Apply sunscreen liberally and evenly to all exposed skin – at least a teaspoon to the face. Reapply every two hours, and immediately after heavy sweating.
  • Always wear a lip balm with an SPF 15 or higher – lips are very sensitive.

Wishing you a sucessful and SunAWARE season on the slopes!

Coolibar employee Amanda and her boyfriend Josh snowboarding in the Black Hills
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Expert Rx

Dermatologist Plea: Use Sun Protection Year Round

Now that fall has arrived, your skin care regimen may change, but please leave sun protection in the mix. UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays are present year-round, whether cloudy or sunny.  By forgoing sun protection in the fall and winter, you may be exposing your skin to sun damage, which accumulates slowly over-time causing age spots, wrinkles or worse. Take it from Dr. Cynthia Bailey who has been practicing dermatology in California for over 24 years. Never tuck your sun protection away, even for a day.

Expert advice from Dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, M.D.

You know that you should protect your skin from the summer sun, but what about the rest of the year? And what about the morning and late afternoon, do you know if that sun will 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 it still damage your skin if you don’t sun protect?

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 because the sun feels weaker they’re safe. Yes, the sunburn ray called UVB is less intense then, but the sun still damages your skin and the tan and wrinkles are the evidence.

The reason the sun is harmful is that UVA rays are out in full intensity; they’re out all day, all year, and at the same intensity as mid-day in the summer!  This means that from sunup to sundown, January or July you’re getting the same hit of UVA. Plus, UVA penetrates your skin more deeply than UVB causing significant and irreversible damage to the deeper parts, and this causes wrinkles.  As if that’s not enough, your sunscreen SPF value tells you nothing about how well your product blocks UVA.  In fact many products don’t do a good job blocking the UVA rays, which is one of the big criticisms of sunscreens.

I’m writing this post in September and 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 protection from UVA.

UVA is bad news! It penetrates skin more deeply than the sunburn ray UVB and the havoc it wreaks on your skin is caused by free radicals.  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 of the skin as opposed in intrinsic aging).  Thin, fragile skin tears and bruises easily as you get older and we can’t reverse it.  UVA is also linked to the development of skin cancers, including melanoma.  To reiterate, UVA damage is not reversible which means prevention is really important.

Even on brisk fall days, the sun's UV rays are present.

What’s my advice for the best year round UVA sun protection for your skin?

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 and 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 protects your full arms and chest too.  These are areas where people get a lot of unfortunate skin thinning from sun damage because they wear short sleeved v-neck shirts.  During hot weather or outdoor athletic activities wear functional garments like swim shirts and tights, ventilated sun protective shirts etc.  Don’t skimp on yourself, create a wardrobe that really protects your skin. 

2.  Wear broad spectrum sunscreen everyday on all the skin that’s left uncovered

This includes your face, neck, ears and the back of your hands.  Make sure your sunscreen product blocks UVA well.  In my opinion, this means using a product with 5% or more micronized zinc oxide. 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.  I also don’t recommend that you rely on a facial moisturizer for UVA protection because most don’t do a good job at that.  Remember the SPF tells you only about UVB protection, not about UVA protection.  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.

3.  Add high concentration antioxidant skin care products to your facial skin care routine and apply them everyday

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 products though I’ve seen my patients get real results (fewer precancerous lesions for me to treat during their checkups).  These products are the two Replenix Creams and the C/R/S vitamin C serum that I sell from my web store. 

4.  Don’t forget to seek the shade 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, rocks, buildings etc.  If you’re getting a tan you’re exposed.

5.  Don’t 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 so 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 recommending 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 Are You Really Getting Vitamin D From The Sun Or Just Nuking Your DNA?

Reference: 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

More from Dr. Bailey at http://www.drbaileyskincare.com/blog/.

Disclaimer: The information provided by Coolibar and its contributors is general skin care information and should not be a substitute for obtaining medical advice from your physician and is not intended to diagnose or treat any specific medical problem.

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