How to protect yourself from the winter sun

Staying sun safe is just as important in the winter as it at other times of the year. The sun's rays are essential for our physical and mental well-being in moderate amounts prompting our bodies to manufacture vitamin D and serotonin.

The flipside of too much of a life in the sun is increasing damage to your skin that could result in skin cancer. Ultraviolet range radiation is the culprit and, despite a repairing ozone upper atmosphere layer that reflects a fair amount of these energies, enough gets through to the Earth's surface to be a significant concern.

According to the Plas Y Brenin, British National Mountain Centre in Great Britain, more than 100,000 skin cancer cases annually are blamed on too much sun. Also in the English 20-29 age group, skin malignancies are the second most common cancer.

UV-B exposure over time increases the likelihood of the formation of cataracts in later years.

It won't spoil a nice sunny day to screen your skin and eyes from most for the exposure to the sun's rays. Here are Plas Y Brenin and Survive Outdoors, Inc. recommendations:

1. Clothing

It may seem superfluous to say that full-cover clothing be worn during the winter months, but this advice extends into spring months when temperatures rise and the snowpack lingers. Broad-brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts always should be part of the winter and spring mountain uniform. Scarves or turtlenecks will help cover necks and reduce reliance on sunblocks. Make sure very thin fabrics will not allow radiation to pass through.

2. Sunscreen

During prolonged outdoors activities for exposed facial skin a strong, waterproof sunscreen is critical. In winter UV-A and UV-B rays can be blocked by SPF 30 or more. Those with fair skin should go to a broad spectrum SPF 50. And with the intensity of the reflection off snow, daubing cream on the underside of every exposed part. For maximum UV-B protection, apply one-half hour before exposure.

3. Eye protection

Snow blindness is a painful debilitating winter time malady that is completely avoidable. Exposure to bright winter sunlight doubled by the glare from snow or ice causes damage (sunburning) to the cornea. But not just any pair of sunglasses will do for protection. Buy ones with UV spectrum blocking lens in frames that conform tightly to your face, not allowing glare in from the sides or cheeks. Goggles with UV screens also are better than prescription glasses.

Source: Plas Y Brenin, the British National Mountain Centre and Survive Outdoors, Inc.

More tips

These same recommendations also apply if you are spending time on the water, winter or summer. A flat-water surface will scatter or reflect the sun's harmful energy almost as readily as snow will.

Remember to apply sunscreen every 40 to 60 minutes especially if you are sweating.

Also be aware that a long list of prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as some hygiene products increase skin photo-sensitivity and thus susceptibility to sunlight.