Lather Up!

Don’t Forget the Sunscreen on your Winter Vacation

With so much of the country deep in the throes of winter, it’s likely that many of us are contemplating a getaway to a warmer climate. Be it desert, pool or beach, it’s also likely that your skin hasn’t seen significant sun since last summer, and you’ll have to adequately protect yourself against sunburn and all the risks associated with it. The same rules apply even if you’re embracing winter and vacationing in the mountains. The sun is stronger at high altitudes, and snow and ice reflect the ultraviolet light of the sun, so it can actually hit you twice! Check out our primer on sunscreen and its benefits, and be sure to lather up!

What is SPF?

SPF stands for “sun protection factor.” The number tells you how long the sun’s UVB rays will take to redden your skin if the sunscreen is used exactly as directed, as compared to the time it would take without sunscreen. So, if an SPF 15 product is used properly, it will take 15 times longer to burn than it would if you used no sunscreen.

Types of Sunscreen

Chemical: Chemical sunscreen is absorbed by the skin and then absorbs UV rays. It turns them into heat, then releases them from the body. Common chemical sunscreen ingredients are avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone.

Physical: Physical sunscreen sits on top of the skin and reflects the sun’s UV rays. Main ingredients are the minerals titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

What is “Broad-Spectrum” or “Full-Spectrum” Sunscreen?

The sun emits two types of ultraviolet light that can damage your skin: UVA, or long wavelength, which penetrates deep into the skin and causes premature aging, and UVB, or short wavelength, which penetrates the surface of the skin and causes sunburn. The best sunscreens, labeled as “broad-spectrum” or “full-spectrum,” protect the skin from both types of UV light.

What is “Reef-Safe” or “Reef-Friendly” Sunscreen?

Reef-safe sunscreen contains no chemicals or other particles that are known to harm coral reefs. Ingredients like octinoxate, oxybenzone, and octocrylene have been shown to damage and potentially kill coral reefs. Mineral sunscreens, which are made from larger particles than chemical sunscreens, are generally more reef-safe, as the particles are too large to be absorbed by the ocean’s flora.


Liberally, and often. That is, at least every two hours, or after swimming, sweating, or using a towel. If you do burn or blister, oral or topical steroids can reduce some of the long-term effects of the burn.

Sunscreen Helps Reduce the Risk of Sunburn

Sunburn is a radiation burn of the skin caused by too much exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. You can get sunburned from spending extended periods in the sun without sunscreen, but in mid-winter, when you’ve lost most of your summer glow, you can burn more quickly. Sunburn can cause rashes, scaling, blisters and hives, and repeated burns can cause skin cancer, premature wrinkling and other skin issues.

Sunscreen Helps Prevent Early Aging

It is estimated that 90% of skin aging is caused by exposure to sunlight, but that those who use sunscreen with an SPF 15 or greater daily show 24% less skin aging than those who do not use sunscreen. Repeated exposure to the ultraviolet light of the sun causes the breakdown of collagen at a higher than normal rate and an increase in free radicals, which damage cells. This leads to skin discoloration, wrinkles, fine lines, spots, and areas that sag or have a leathery texture.

Sunscreen Helps Reduce the Risk of Skin Cancer

Using sunscreen every day, even when it’s cloudy, is the best way to prevent skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, more than two people die from skin cancer in the United States every hour and having five or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma. Use a minimum of SPF 30 to reduce the risk, and higher if you want even more protection.

Sunscreen Helps Prevent Skin Discoloration

“Sun spots” and “liver spots” are the tan or brown spots that develop on our faces, heads, hands and arms as a result of sun exposure as we age. They are collections of the pigment melanin, which form to protect the body from sun exposure by absorbing the ultraviolet light of the sun. Applying sunscreen each day can prevent these spots from appearing.

Sunscreen Helps to Reduce Inflammation

Exposure to UV rays causes redness and inflammation of the skin that can be especially problematic for those with skin conditions like rosacea or psoriasis. Wearing sunscreen reduces exposure to harmful UV rays, which reduces that inflammation. If you have sensitive skin, look for a sunscreen with gentle ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, or shop the baby aisle of the drugstore for an ultra-gentle block. Additionally, avoid spray sunscreens, as the chemicals used to propel the sunscreen out of the bottle and make the formula thin enough to spray can be irritating to the skin.