Be Skin Aware - protecting your skin in the winter

It may be cold and dark outside and the last thing on your mind during the winter months is protecting yourself from the sun, however, the sun produces harmful UV rays all year round even on cloudy days and during the cold winter months. If you work outdoors, play sports, or are just concerned to reduce your skin cancer risk, not to mention reduce the signs of aging, then we recommend that you wear a SPF30+ to exposed areas of your skin daily, whatever the weather.

If you are thinking of catching some sun by traveling to a hotter country this winter or if you are thinking of hitting the ski slopes, then please look at our sun safety tips to help keep you SkinAware during the winter months.

Make sure you protect yourself if you’re going to hit the slopes this winter

UV rays (ultra-violet light) are very intense in places like ski resorts, this is due to the high altitude and can be more dangerous as fresh snow actually reflects 80% of UV radiation, meaning the higher the altitude the more you will be exposed to UV exposure.1 For every 1,000 feet you climb in altitude, your UV exposure increases by 4%.2  High altitudes mean that UV rays are more intense as the atmosphere is thinner and is less effective at blocking the rays. The snow reflects and magnifies the rays, therefore, increasing your risk of developing skin cancer.

Sun safety tips for snow destinations

  • Apply a high SPF of at least 30+ to exposed areas and a SPF15 or higher lip balm.
  • Wear close fitting wraparound sunglasses/googles (polarized if possible) to protect your eyes from sun damage and glare. Eyes and eyelids are common sites for skin cancer.3 If you can wear ski masks this provides even greater protection from UV rays and windburn.
  • It is best to ski early in the morning and/or later in the day, before 11am or after 3pm when the sun’s UV penetration is lower.4

If you’re jetting off for some winter sun, think again about using a sunbed for a ‘base tan’

Sunbeds are not safe: ‘FACT’.  A common misconception is that a sunbed tan will prepare or protect your skin before you go on holiday – it won’t! The intensity of some types of UV rays from sunbeds can be up to 10 -15 times higher than that of the midday sun.

Research has proven that sunbeds give out the same harmful UV rays as the sun, damaging the DNA in our skin cells, which can cause all types of skin cancer. It is estimated that sunbeds cause around 100 deaths from melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) in the UK each year, with cases rising at an alarming rate.

Using a sunbed just once a month can increase your risk of skin cancer by more than half, and regular sunbed use under the age of 35 years increases the risk of skin cancer by an alarming 75%. Please don’t use them to build up a ‘base tan’.

Sun safety tips for sun destinations

Choosing the right sunscreen 

  • Choose a high SPF. Most fair-skinned people will need SPF 30 or higher to stop them from burning in the sun.
  • Choose a sunscreen product with a superior UVA 4-5 star-rated protection symbol. 

Applying sunscreen correctly

  • Apply your SPF 30+ sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside and always reapply at least every two hours.
  • It is important to use a generous amount: the average-sized adult should apply at least a teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm, leg, front and back of body and at least half a teaspoon to the face (not forgetting the ears and neck).

Remember the 5 Ss of sun safety to protect your skin

As the main cause of skin cancer is harmful UV radiation, taking steps to protect your skin will help to prevent skin damage.

  • SLIP a t-shirt on
  • SLAP on a wide-brimmed hat
  • SLOP the sunscreen on
  • SLIDE on sunglasses with UVA protection
  • SHADE from the sun during midday hours

Don’t forget to be skin aware all year round and check your skin!

Make sure you check your skin for any ‘changes’ all year round. Dressing in thick winter woollies may mean you may well be growing a melanoma during winter and may not pick it up until summer when your skin is more exposed in summer clothes.

There is currently no NHS national screening programme for skin cancer so it’s important to regularly check your skin for any changes or abnormalities. Being familiar with your skin – i.e., how it looks and feels – is crucial in identifying the symptoms of skin cancer early.

A complete self-skin examination takes less than five minutes, and we recommend you check your skin once a month. You can take a look at our handy guide on how to check your skin here.

SkinCheck, provided by Check4Cancer, is a fast-track skin cancer screening service for anyone who wants a specialist clinical opinion on the appearance of their skin or moles.


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