For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, fall is here. You can pack away your swimsuits for the cooler seasons, but don’t make the mistake of packing away your sunscreen. The UV index tends to be lower in the winter than it is in the summer, but depending on where you live, there may only be a few months of the year when you likely won’t need sun protection. We commonly associate sunburns with summer and tropical vacations, so it’s easy to assume that our skin isn’t at risk when the sky is overcast and there’s snow on the ground. However, this is an incorrect assumption – we can still be exposed to potentially dangerous levels of UV radiation during fall and winter. It’s best to use sun protection year round if you plan to spend time outdoors, especially in snowy environments.

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If you read our previous post, you’ll know how the UV index is calculated. A number of factors influence the UV index on any given day, including ozone thickness, altitude, season, the Earth’s surface, latitude, land cover, time of day, and cloud cover¹. Sun Index recommends using sun protection if the UV index is 3 or higher, and in New York, there are only three months out of the year where the UV index is likely below 3: November, December, and January. Many people wouldn’t think to use sun protection in New York around Halloween time, but according to the World Health Organization, the UV index on October 21st can still reach 3².

In the winter months in New York, there’s usually snow on the ground, and this snow can reflect up to 80% of the UV rays emitted by the sun¹. This means that they can bounce back off of the ground, and contact your skin twice. This increased UV exposure could lead to sunburn. UV reflection is concerning for not only everyday pedestrians in snowy parts of the world, but especially for skiers, snowboarders, mountaineers, and other winter athletes, who are outside in snowy environments for extended periods of time.

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Winter sun protection is important for everyday pedestrians, and especially for winter athletes. To find out when and how to protect your skin in any season, use Sun Index. It accounts for the UV index, your skin type, and environmental situation to give you personalized sun protection tips.

  1. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2004). A Guide to the UV Index. Retrieved August 31, 2016
  2. World Health Organization. (n.d.). UV Index. Retrieved August 31, 2016