We all know the rules of being in the summer sun: Lather your body in sunscreen when you go to the beach, wear a hat every time you step outside, and go see your dermatologist to check for any moles or new damage the minute Labor Day hits. Whether or not we actually follow these rules as closely as we should be, we at least know they exist. But did you know you're supposed to wear sunscreen in the winter, too?
I know you're probably going, "wait, what?" (especially if you live in New York, where it feels like we don't see the sun from November until May) but apparently, the sun can be even more harmful to your skin when you don't expect it. "The sun’s radiation is going to be your #1 enemy when you reach a certain age," says Dove Dermatologist Dr. Alicia Barba. "What looks pretty in your 20s when you’re nice and tanned, you’re gonna pay for in your 30s and 40s."
Even if it's hidden behind a cloud, the sun's radiation can still damage your skin from both a beauty and a health perspective. "From a health point of view, sunscreen is necessary to block out those harmful radiation rays," says Barba. "And from a vanity point of view, it’s very important because that radiation tears up your collagen and leads to premature wrinkling when you get older."
Since we are still learning about all of the different ways light affects our skin — Dr. Barba says that even the infrared light from computer and phone screens can be damaging — it's important to stay protected at all times, even when you may think you aren't at risk.
If you don't take the necessary precautions, you may end up paying for it later in life. "If you're unfortunate, you'll start getting hyperpigmentation," says Dr. Barba. "In your 40s, you’ll get brown spots, and I’m not talking pretty genetic freckles, I’m talking solar lentigines." (Otherwise known as the dreaded sun spots.)
When the cold weather hits, it's important to find a sunscreen that is extra-hydrating because your skin tends to get dry in the winter time. Dr. Barba creates her own "sunscreen cocktail" every morning that includes a combination of regular SPF, tinted moisturizer with SPF, and foundation with SPF. She finds that it helps her feel moisturized and protected while still offering the coverage she needs for her own hyperpigmentation.
"If you're a young person with pretty healthy skin, regular SPF might be fine," she says. "If you want that coverage and a little SPF, a tinted moisturizer works too."
Suntegrity 5 in 1 Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen, $45, Amazon
As a dermatologist, Dr. Barba jokes that without the sun, she would be out of business, because over 70 percent of the skin problems she sees in her practice are as a direct result of the sun. "I can tell who wears what kind of bathing suit," she says, "Because people will be so sun damaged everywhere else, except for in a perfect bikini shape or a one piece shape"
Do yourself a favor this season and lather sunscreen on your face, chest, and ears every day, even when you think it's unnecessary because it's cold or cloudy.
Trust me, your skin will thank you later.
Images: Morne de Klerk/Getty Images; Courtesy of Brands