It is cold, cloudy, less sunny and perhaps windy. The weather this season is very inviting and appears to give one the freedom to just venture out without wearing the one protective gear that otherwise is a compulsion- a sunscreen lotion. Especially with people living in tropical climates like that in the Middle East, it is a common conviction that winter sun is not harsh and unlike sunlight in summer, will not harm skin. Sadly, this common conviction is actually a myth.
It is not sunlight that causes skin to tan, but in actual fact, its composition of UV rays that cause a host of problems. The sun’s ultraviolet rays bombard the earth throughout the year and can penetrate many cloud covers. UV rays can therefore harm skin irrespective of the season. Cold temperatures call for warm clothing with minimal exposure of skin. But no matter the extent of dip in temperature, face and the back of the hands are generally uncovered and are therefore most susceptible to the wrath of UV rays.
“Many people put on sunscreen when it’s hot out,” says Dr. Brian Adams, a sports medicine specialist and associate professor of dermatology, “because they feel hot and sweaty. In the winter, especially in colder parts of the country, the temperature cue doesn’t exist, and people simply forget the risk. What they ignore is that even though it’s winter, even when it’s cloudy, the sun is out and it’s still radiating ultraviolet light. ‘Hot spots’ like the face, ears and the backs of the hands are still open to ultraviolet exposure, and in some men that includes the scalp, too.”
It was once believed that UV rays (especially UV A rays) are responsible for aging of skin. Today we know that these rays damage the basal layer of cells in epidermis and can contribute to and may even initiate the development of skin cancers. UV A rays have a penetrating capacity of about 50 times more than UVB rays and can penetrate glass as well causing most people to tan even when they are unaware of it. UVA also has a damaging effect on the skin structure causing loss of collagen and elasticity of the skin, which results in sagging and wrinkling. It is therefore a good idea to apply a sunscreen lotion even on road trips.
There are a host of other skin problems the sun can cause. The sun dries the skin out and causes premature aging or eczema like rashes on the skin. This often needs steroidal treatment or topical medications. The sun can also cause brown aging spots on people not wearing sun protection.
According to the American Cancer Society, most of the more than 1 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer diagnosed yearly in the United States are sun related. Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, accounted for about 59,600 cases of skin cancer in 2005 and about 7,800 of the 10,600 deaths due to skin cancer each year. The damage done to the skin by the sun is cumulative. Every time you get sunburn, changes are happening in the very cell structure of the skin. Over time, the damage becomes permanent or irreversible. Therefore, before frolicking in the winter sun, remember that sun protection is as important in January as it is in June. Hence, take some time to douse yourself with an effective sunscreen and reduce your chances of developing sun related skin problems. Enjoy a ‘sun-safe’ winter!
Article by Snigdha Taduri for Biomed-ME