Higher altitude means increased levels of harmful UV exposure compared to sea level areas. UV exposure increases 8-10 percent with every 1,000 feet above sea level. At an altitude of 9-10,000 feet, UV may be 45-50 percent more intense than at sea level. In addition, snow reflects about 80 percent of the UV light from the sun, meaning that you are often hit by the same rays twice. This only contributes to the problem, further increasing the risk for skin cancer.
The combination of higher altitude and ultraviolet (UV) rays reflected by the snow puts skiers and snowboarders at an increased risk of sun damage and ultimately, skin cancer. More than 90 percent of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure. It’s easy to associate winter with frostbite and windburn, but most people are unaware that UV rays can be even more damaging on the slopes than on the beach,it’s important to take proper precautions while on the slopes.
Both snow and strong wind can wear away sunscreen and reduce its effectiveness, so you have to take extra precautions. To protect your skin from the bitter cold, heavy winds and winter sun, follow these important sun protection tips:
• Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher whenever you spend time outdoors. Apply 30 minutes before hitting the slopes.Be aware that the sun’s reflection off the snow is strong even on cloudy days.
• Apply sunscreen liberally and evenly to all exposed skin – most skiers and snowboarders do not use enough sunscreen and therefore do not get the maximum protection.
• Use a more moisturizing sunscreen. Winter conditions can be particularly harsh on the skin.
• Be sure to cover often-missed spots: lips, ears, around eyes, neck, underside of chin, scalp and hands.
• Always wear a lip balm with an SPF 15 or higher. Lips are even more sensitive than most parts of the skin.
• Reapply at least every two hours, and more often after sweating or exposure to wind and snow.
• Carry a travel-sized sunscreen and lip balm with you on the slopes. Reapply on the chairlift, especially after a long, snow-blown run.
• Wear items like ski masks, which will cover most of the skin, leaving very little exposed to the wind and sun.
• UV-blocking sunglasses or goggles that offer 100% UV protection and have wraparound or large frames protect your eyelids and the sensitive skin around your eyes, common sites for skin cancer and sun-induced aging. The sun’s rays and glare can impair your vision, so it’s important to wear sunglasses or goggles to clearly see the terrain. Plus, it will increase your enjoyment and performance while skiing.
Be mindful of time spent in the sun, regardless of the season.
• Keep track of the time you spend in full sunlight. If possible, ski early in the morning and later on in the day, before 10AM and after 4PM. This helps avoid long lines and decreases the amount of time spent outdoors in the most intense hours of sunlight.
• If you are on the slopes for most of the day, take a few breaks indoors to reapply sunscreen.
• Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration from the sun.
Enjoy the winter season, but be sure to take care of your skin to avoid the damage the cold season can cause.
The first organization in the U.S committed to educating the public and medical professionals about sun safety, The Skin Cancer Foundation is still the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, detection and treatment of skin cancer. The mission of the Foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research.