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Image of a ski goggle representing UV protection in winter

UV protection in winter

Written by
Chloe James

If there’s a universal skincare rule, it’s this: apply sunscreen daily. Long before we start dabbling with toners, serums, or retinols, we’re taught to layer on SPF. It’s a habit ingrained from childhood, but not always one that sticks. Only an estimated ten per cent of the global population are thought to wear SPF every day, leaving 90 per cent vulnerable to sun damage.

While we all need time in the sun to boost our mood and vitamin D levels, the trap many people fall into is presuming it’s only dangerous when it feels powerful. But the sun can harm our skin all year long. If there’s light, there are UV rays. And if there are UV rays, the skin is at risk of everything from skin cancer to premature ageing. So, just because you can tolerate the sun more during the milder temperatures in winter, doesn’t mean your skin can do the same.

Find a clinic or practitioner near you and enjoy a risk-free booking process thanks to free in-clinic consultations and the option to pay in-clinic. Also, you can now split the cost of your treatment into four equal, interest-free instalments using Tabby.

Image of a lamp representing sun and uv rays in winter

Sun, skin, and winter

As the radiation responsible for damaging skin at a cellular level, what makes UV so tricky is the fact you can’t see it. While you’d think that cloudy, milder days eliminate the need for hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen, these rays are sneaky and have a tactical advantage in the winter months. The ozone layer – which is there to basically act as the earth’s sun visor – naturally thins in the latter part of the year, giving UV rays better access than usual.

But not all UV rays are made equal. UVA rays are known as the ‘long’ waves, as they can reach so far into your skin. They’re the ones associated with skin ageing, dark spots, and tanning. Around 95 per cent of all UV rays are UVA – and, as they’re the strongest, are the ones most likely to cause damage in winter.

Image of a lens representing UV protection in winter

Less of a risk are UVB rays. Not only do they not penetrate skin quite as deeply, but they’re also reduced by clouds. As they’re the ones causing most of the surface-level damage to your skin, you’re slightly less vulnerable to sunburn when the temperatures drop. However, they’re still powerful in the sun’s peak hours, which usually fall around midday. They’re also more likely to burn you in the winter at high altitudes or near reflective surfaces such as snow or ice, so you may want to bear that in mind if you book a snowy getaway.

How do I protect my skin in the winter?

Winter calls for the same sun protection as summer: sunscreen. But before you pick up the same bottle, check whether it’s labelled as ‘broad-spectrum’. All sunscreens protect against UVB rays, but these products also cover UVA – which is the more common type in winter. The higher the SPF, the higher your protection levels, but 30 is a good starting point as it filters out around 97 per cent of rays.

Image of a woman putting cream on her cheeks representing how to protect skin in the winter

But this protection doesn’t last forever. Ideally, SPF should be reapplied every two hours – which can get complicated if you’re wearing makeup. Instead of removing it (or worse, trying to repeatedly top it with thick sunscreen) there are powdered and spray versions on the market that can prevent any makeup mishaps. And while makeup products that contain SPF alone aren’t enough, they can help boost protection throughout the day.

Equally important as finding the right sunscreen is applying it properly. Any area of skin exposed to the sun needs protection, from your hands to the tips of your ears. The general rule for how much product you need is two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimetre of skin – which works out at around two tablespoons for the entire body, or half a tablespoon for the face.

We know – it sounds like overkill. Just think of it as an investment in the future of your skin – and remember that SPF can really make your skin glow more than usual.

What can I do for existing sun damage?

The thing about sun damage is that it's accumulative. Repeated sun exposure – at any time of year – can break down collagen, speed up the formation of wrinkles, and trigger your skin’s melanin defence mechanism, creating dark spots. While SPF can reduce the odds of this happening in the future, there are also ways to treat the damage that’s already been done.

LED

Ironically, LED therapy uses UV light to reverse these signs of damage. In the hands of a dermatologist, however, this UV is used for good. Over six to eight sessions, the skin is exposed to specific-coloured lights – for this purpose, usually red – to boost collagen production, which in turn improves the appearance of fine lines.

Laser

If you’re concerned about dark spots as well as lost collagen, laser treatment stimulates cell turnover and collagen production by making several controlled ‘micro-injuries’ to the skin. Your final result might require several sessions, but you can usually see some improvement from day one. Just be sure to choose the right laser for your skin tone.

Mesotherapy

Another option for upping your collagen production is mesotherapy. With several small injections, this tops up the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients needed for happy and healthy skin. It’s also a great option for strengthening your skin barrier, which is easily damaged in the sun. You’ll need two or three sessions for maximum impact, but the results can last for up to 18 months.

Microdermabrasion

With the aid of abrasive diamonds or crystals, microdermabrasion buffs away the dead skin cells that sit on the top layer of skin, revealing the fresh, glowing layer underneath. Over time, repeat sessions can gradually improve the appearance of sun spots, as well as promoting that easily damaged collagen production.

Chemical peel

Whether you’re looking to treat dark spots or stubborn wrinkles, there’s a chemical peel for you. Options vary from superficial to deep, with deeper peels requiring a lengthier recovery, but delivering more impactful results for wrinkles.

Profhilo

With lower collagen production comes thinner, more delicate skin that often feels drier than it once did. By injecting the skin with the highest concentration of hyaluronic acid on the market, two sessions of Profhilo encourage the skin to hold onto moisture – leaving it looking plump, fresh, and glowing. In turn, this can help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles for up to six months.

Important to remember is that nearly all the treatments above will temporarily make the skin more vulnerable to UV damage. Whether it’s for days or weeks depends on the treatment itself, but just be prepared to stay indoors for a period before or after your appointment.

Can I prevent sun damage for good?

Short of turning nocturnal, there’s no way to avoid the sun forever. That’s why it’s vital to do what we can – especially in winter, when it’s so easy to turn a blind eye to the damage it can cause. With the right steps, you can keep skin healthy and glowing in every season.

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