Protect Your Winter Skin

As the temperature keeps dropping, you may be bundled up nicely against the cold; but are you sun protected? No matter how many layers we wear, one part of the body – the head and neck area – tends to remain exposed to the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation year-round. Not coincidentally, the face, head and neck are where the majority of skin cancers occur. So follow our winter sun safety guide and put your best face forward!

Many people apply moisturizer to delicate facial skin to minimize windburn and chapping. However, long-term signs of aging like wrinkles don’t come from the wind or cold, but from the sun’s UV radiation. A sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF, which measures defense against the sun’s UVB rays) of 15+ helps keep skin supple and protected. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends sunscreens that also have some combination of these UVA-protective ingredients: avobenzone, ecamsule, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide.

Apply a nickel-sized dollop of sunscreen to the face 30 minutes before going outside. And be sure to reapply after two hours out- doors, or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily

Studies show that .6 percent of all cancers in the US are on the lips, and men are especially at risk. The lower lip, which receives greater sun exposure, is especially vulnerable to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most common skin cancer. Protect your lips from sun damage as well as chapping and peeling with a lip balm, stick, or gloss that has an SPF of 15 or higher.

More than 30 percent of all facial basal cell carcinomas (the most common skin cancers) occur on the nose, making it the most frequent site for skin cancers of the head and neck. Consider applying an extra dab there of thicker-textured, physical sunscreen, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Melanoma (the deadliest skin cancer) of the head and neck is particularly dangerous. According to recent research at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, patients with melanomas of the head and neck — including the scalp — were almost twice as likely to die from the disease as patients with melanomas on other areas, including the trunk, facial skin, and ears. Luckily, there’s a simple way to help protect these vulnerable areas: hats. Look for hats with:

  • Wide Brims: Hats with at least a 3”-brim encircling the crown protect the face, ears, and neck. Examples include the bucket, cowboy, and outback.
  • Dark Colors: Dark- or bright-colored hats absorb UV radiation better than paler colors.
  • Opaque Materials: The denser the fabric, the greater the protection. Look for closed-weave or tightly woven fabrics.

If you can’t cover your head, a gel, liquid, or spray sunscreen should be applied to part lines, cowlicks, and any place the hair is thinning.

Many of us forget to protect our ears. But while they are not as common a site for skin cancer as other parts of the face, the ears area common site for actinic keratosis, a skin precancer that can lead to SCC. So it is important to protect them. As with the scalp and neck, a broad-brimmed hat is best, and sunscreen is vital, too. In winter, you’ve got another option — earmuffs!

The eye area is small, but the effects of sun damage to the skin here can be enormous: Skin cancers of the eyelids account for 5-10 percent of all skin cancers. UV-blocking sun- glasses provide the most effective protection.

When purchasing sunglasses, look for:

  • A tag stating that the sunglasses block 99-100 percent of UVA and UVB rays.
  • A pair large enough to shield the eyes, eyelids, and surrounding areas. Wrap- around styles, with UV-protective side shields, are best.
  • A close fit: choose a pair that doesn’t slip down the nose. (Loose-fitting sunglasses allow more UV in.)

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