There is a tendency to only focus on sun care and protecting one’s skin from the sun during the summer months, and sure this makes sense as it’s hot and the sun is out in full force. However, other skin conditions caused by exposure to the sun i.e. skin cancer, pigmentation, and wrinkles, are most certainly not season specific, and the accumulative effects of year-round exposure to UVA contribute significantly to their prevalence.

Skin cancer, pigmentation, wrinkles – protecting skin from the sun is about more than just preventing sunburn.

Dermatologists around the world all agree that the best anti-ageing product one should use is a good broad-spectrum sunscreen, meaning UVA and UVB protection, and that this should be used every day – whether you are indoors or outdoors and regardless of the season. “We are exposed to much more sun than we actually realise,” said Dr Janine Ellenberger (founder and CEO of GR8 Skincare). “Every time we step outside for a few minutes – to hang the washing up, walk the dog, and even when driving around in the car – we are exposed to damaging UVA and UVB rays.”

This exposure is cumulative and because there is no obvious immediate damage, we do not think about it. This is even more true in winter because we are covered up, the temperatures are lower, and we tend to spend less time outdoors. While this does mean we are exposed to less and weaker UVB rays, UVA rays are potent year-round, making the case for year-round protection a solid one. Although SA does not receive generalised snow and skiing is not a particularly common winter sport, it is still interesting to note snow reflects even more UV radiation than both sand and water – as much as 80%, whereas sand only reflects 15%, and sea foam about 25%.

Cloud cover is also not an excuse not to wear sunscreen as up to 80% of the sun’s rays penetrate clouds. The same is true of windows – unless they are UV coated, UV rays go right through the glass and cause skin damage. “The bottom line is to apply sunscreen everyday – even in winter – on exposed skin such as face, neck, hands, and ears,” said Ellenberger. “You do not need to apply an SPF 50 from head to toe, but a well formulated sunscreen, preferably with zinc oxide, anti-oxidants, and SPF of 15-30, is perfect.

If you are going to be doing winter outdoor activities remember to reapply every few hours.” Ellenberger also advises to wear a hat and sunglasses to protect the skin and eyes from UV radiation. Sunglasses are one of the most important preventive steps in hyperpigmentation as well as eye protection. The process of hyperpigmentation is a complex one, encompassing five steps, the first of which is the effect of the sun on the eyes. As our eyes are exposed to sunlight, a message is sent directly to the skin centre in the brain telling it to start producing melanin, the pigment responsible for a tan, and all hyperpigmentation.

One can use a myriad of products to prevent hyperpigmentation and ageing, but without the protective effect of sunglasses the products will be less effective. It is also important to remember that one can get a melanoma in the retinal area of the eye. Sunglasses with adequate UV protection are a daily must.

“Winter sunscreen use, along with smart sun habits like hats, sunglasses, and protective clothing go a long way to maintaining the youthful, healthy, blemish-free skin we all aspire to. Winter is an ideal time to give the skin all the TLC it needs after the brutal sunny onslaught during the summer months. A little kindness goes a long way.”

AUTHOR: Dr Janine Ellenberger, GR8SKN Skincare