“But why would I need sun cream? It’s freezing cold.”
It’s a common and dangerous assumption that sun protection isn’t necessary when holidaying in the mountains.
It might be colder at 6,000 ft, but that doesn’t mean you’re immune to sun damage. Consider the red noses, chapped lips and goggle marks that are synonymous with keen skiers and snowboarders, and you’ll soon realise that sun damage is a real problem. There are several reasons for this…
Why is sun damage a concern on ski trips?
- A thin atmosphere: The atmosphere surrounding the earth helps to scatter UV radiation from the sun. As the altitude increases, pressure decreases, which makes the air thinner. Thin air isn’t as effective at scattering and filtering out UV rays, so they hit the earth – and its ski resorts – with more intensity.
- Reflective surfaces: Snow and ice are inherently reflective. This means that the amount of UV radiation hitting your skin is amplified. Up to 80% of rays are reflected back from snowy surfaces, and 30% from water, so even if it’s not particularly sunny on the slopes, UV damage can still occur.
- Deceptive cloud coverage: Even on dull and dreary days in the mountains, you shouldn’t be fooled. Clouds can absorb some UV rays, but many will still reach us. It’s also been suggested that clouds may even increase the amount of radiation that hits the earth, as the UV rays bounce off them.
- False assumptions: As we’ve mentioned, many people wrongly assume that sun protection isn’t needed when it’s cold outside, and some may even seek out sunshine in order to warm up.
These conditions mean that sun damage is very likely to occur if precautions aren’t taken, even on the chilliest days. That’s because it’s not the heat of the sun that damages your skin, but the radiation that it emits.
How the rays affect your skin
There are two main types of UV radiation that damage our skin. UVA rays are present all year round, no matter where you are in the world. These long wavelength rays penetrate the skin deeply, leading to premature skin ageing, collagen and elastin destruction, and DNA damage.
And though it’s true that, in the northern hemisphere, UVB rays are most harmful in the spring and summer months, that’s not to say that you don’t need sun protection on your winter skiing trip. UVB rays have shorter wavelengths which have powerful impact on the skin’s surface, causing sunburn and pigmentation. They are also responsible for the DNA damage that leads to skin cancer.
In addition visible light and infrared-A are also emitted from the sun and can damage skin all year round, penetrating cloud and glass. While these types of radiation are lesser known, research shows that they are both responsible for causing wide-spread damage to the skin.
When skin is exposed to radiation it can affect your skin cell DNA that ensures every cell functions correctly. When the DNA is damaged, the cells stop working properly, which can lead to the development of cancer. Sun exposure will also deplete collagen and elastin production, making your skin less flexible and therefore susceptible to wrinkling and sagging. What’s more, when it’s exposed to the sun, your skin tries hard to protect itself by producing the pigment melanin. Too much melanin production can lead to pigmentation, which makes your skin look aged and uneven.
How other mountain conditions affect your skin
But it’s not only the sun that can wreak havoc on your skin. Up in the mountains, you’ll be more exposed to the elements, including wind. This strips the skin of its natural oils, making it more dry and sensitive. Your lips may also become chapped, sore and in need of a moisture boost.
When it’s time for aprés ski, you’re likely to experience a serious temperature shift. Heading into a centrally-heated hotel or bar might feel like a warm and cosy relief, but this process causes facial capillaries to expand rapidly, leading to redness. Hot air can also irritate the skin and cause cracking and flaking.
Your eyes can also be affected (interestingly, the most common skiing injury is to eyes). The UV radiation that damages skin can also damage eyes, leading to discomfort and, in extreme cases, snow-blindness. You can protect your eyes by wearing high quality, well-fitting goggles that block at least 95% of UV rays.
How to protect your skin on the slopes
When you’re bundled up in salopettes and a ski jacket, it’s easy to forget about skin protection. But it’s crucial that you take the right steps to protecting and replenishing your skin.
The most important step in your skiing skin care routine is a broad spectrum sun protection product. Since skiers and snowboarders tend to spend most of the day outside, a high sun protection factor is crucial. Heliocare 360°’s Fluid Cream and Water Gel are great options for ski trips, as they offer broad spectrum protection against UV rays, visible light and infrared-A, as well as protecting against free radicals and reactive oxygen species. These products will also help to hydrate dry skin.
A rich facial cream will also help to treat wind burn and provide your skin with a much-needed moisture boost. Hand cream and lip balm with SPF are also musts, ensuring that these vulnerable areas are nourished and protected. You could also use a super hydrating face mask after a long day on the slopes.
Remember, sun damage isn’t exclusive to summer holidays in hot countries. It can occur anywhere, at any time… even in sub-zero temperatures.