You shouldn't skip this important skincare step in the fall and winter.

By Elizabeth Swanson
October 17, 2019

When the weather changes from hot to cold, crisp air and nubby sweaters seem like a welcome break from the humidity and skin-baring sundresses. Wrapping up in layers also means you don't have to slather your décolletage, shoulders, arms, and legs in sunscreen. But this doesn't get you off the hook from applying SPF on your face. Although there's not as much daylight in winter as in summer, the sun's ultraviolet rays are still damaging. "I always advise wearing SPF daily, 365 days a year," says New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Patricia Wexler. "At least SPF 30 from October through April, and SPF 46 from May through September."

Getty / SanneBerg

Related: How to Eat Your Way to Healthy, Glowy Winter Skin

What SPF to Use in Colder Seasons

To ward off dry skin, swap out a lighter formula for one that's more moisturizing, says Dr. Jennifer MacGregor, a dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology. She adds that you'll want to make sure you're using a broad-spectrum formula that protects from both UVA and UVB rays. (The ultraviolet rays that lead to tans and sunburns are UVB rays, while UVA rays lead to wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, sagging, dullness, and large pores. Both contribute to skin cancer.) The effects of UVA rays are cumulative, slowly doing their damage each time you walk out to grab food during your lunch break, run outside to catch the bus, or drive your car. Regardless of the time of year or weather conditions, you can bet that sans sunscreen those rays are reaching you.

Go for a Natural Formal

"Look for a mineral sunscreen with zinc and titanium to ensure it's broad spectrum and has staying power," Dr. MacGregor says. As opposed to chemical sunscreens, which are absorbed into the body, mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin to act as a physical shield from both UVA and UVB rays. She likes Elta MD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46.

Don't Use Vitamin D as an Excuse

Some might use vitamin D as an excuse to forgo sunscreen in the winter, but for dermatologists, that won't cut it. "Deliberately exposing your skin to the sun is not a good way to maintain vitamin D levels, no matter the season," says Dr. Kenneth Howe, a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in New York City. "The more realistic and effective way of maintaining proper vitamin D levels is to take a supplement." Not to mention the fact that after prolonged sun exposure, you actually start breaking down vitamin D, Dr. MacGregor adds.

It's Not Just the Outdoors You Have to Worry About

Still, others might say they go to work and leave work in the dark, therefore negating the need for sunscreen, but blue light energy, which is emitted from our laptops, smartphones, and TVs, also contributes to aging of the skin. Another thing to note: If you're sitting in a high-rise office building next to a window, UVA rays can seep through there, as well!

Don't Forget to Reapply

If you're skiing, ice skating, or participating in any other outdoor winter activity, you should reapply your sunscreen every two hours, Dr. Wexler says, as their effectiveness can degrade in active ultraviolet light. "Also, don't forget your hairline and part," Dr. MacGregor adds. "These are common sites for sun damage and skin cancers. Wear a hat whenever possible. Remember that clouds, windows, and ski masks can still allow for penetration of UVA radiation into the skin."

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