Myths and Facts: Sunscreen for Skiing

Myths and Facts: The Best Sunscreen for Skiing

Did you know that the intensity of UV radiation increases by about 4% for every 300 yards of height? And that there are two main groups of creams—chemical and mineral? Neither did I, until I attended the lectures of leading London dermatologist Dr. Sam Bunting. She’s a real expert in the field.

Ladies, it’s a waste of time to apply several layers of SPF 15, because more layers doesn’t mean more protection. Read on and you’ll learn more myths and facts about protecting your skin from the sun in the mountains too.

Skin Care

Protection from the Sun

1) “Applying well once in the morning is enough.”

You should apply sun cream and lip balm with SPF once per two hours regardless of their protection factor. The only difference between factor 70 and factor 30 is in how many rays they block from your skin. Both will only last for two hours. The amount of cream you use is also important. They say you should use 0.17 liquid ounces of cream on your face and neckline (put scientifically, 22 mg per cm2). Always apply to it your skin after cleansing it and applying your day cream. You might also want to put on some ski lip balm.

2) “Only UVB rays are harmful.”

While the medium-wave UVB rays that reach the Earth’s surface only make it to the upper layers of your epidermis, the long-wave UVA rays reach your subcutaneous tissue. This particular type of radiation can go through e.g. clouds or glass. Meanwhile, UVA rays make up 90% of solar radiation, while UVB and UVC are only the other 10%. UVB rays can cause acute skin reactions such as redness—but they also provoke the synthesis of the important Vitamin D (an hour a day is enough for this). However, the skin’s long-term reaction to them is dangerous; it causes skin carcinoma (cancer). UVA rays are mainly responsible for later reactions such as disrupting, and then ageing, your skin cells.

3) “Why should I put on ski sunscreen? The sun’s not out.”

Clouds can only reduce sunlight by 20%, so you still need to use protection even in cold and damp weather.

4) “Sunscreen is just for the beach.”

The strength of UV radiation depends on the altitude, surface reflectiveness (sand vs. snow), and longitude/latitude. Research has shown that for every roughly every 300 yards above sea level, the sun’s rays become 4% stronger. This means that if you head up a mile into the mountains, they are 20% stronger than on the beach. Even though you’re protected up there by a thick, impenetrable layer of clothing, you’ll still want the best lip balm for skiing you can find, and you also shouldn’t underestimate face and eye protection (at minimum). You’ll surely appreciate the Swiss mountain sun cream by Piz Buin, for instance. It provides your skin complete protection from the mountain wind and sun.

Piz Buin

5) “It’s all the same which sunscreen you buy, as long as its SPF is high enough.”

You should definitely know what you’ll be doing up there when you’re choosing the best sunscreen for skiing trips this winter. When you’re skiing, you can safely wear a sunscreen with less water resistance than you’d need by the sea, but on the other hand, your ski sunscreen will need to protect you from the wind and frost. Your skin type matters too. In general, the oilier your skin, the better it will respond to lotion-based sunscreen over oils or creams. However, since suntan lotion is thin in consistency, it can’t handle high SPFs. The exception to this rule is the Anthelios AC protective matte facial fluid by La Roche-Posay. Nowadays you can also buy sunscreens made to deal with wrinkles, atopic skin conditions, or extremely sensitive skin.

6) “Sunscreens don’t soak in well and leave a white film.”

Sunscreens, aka UV protection, can be classified by the way in which they actually protect you from the sun.

Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays and converting them into heat, which they then release from the skin. Physical, also called mineral sunscreens, reflect or scatter the sun’s rays. Both types have their advantages and disadvantages, so the best protection comes from creams that combine the two types. Chemical sun creams often contain harmful substances such as oxybenzone, ethylhexyl, and benzophenone, which decay into free radicals and carcinogens and are dangerous when inhaled. They are unsuitable for children and for people with sensitive skin. However, they are more convenient as cosmetics: they don’t leave an oily or white film, makeup can be applied over them, and they smooth the skin. One high-quality chemical facial sun blocker is Elisabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream in SPF 50.

Mineral sun creams go easy on sensitive skin and are better for your skin in general, but for them to work right, you have to apply a thick layer. That’s why they initially form a white, oily film and are hard to apply. They also rub off easily, so you have to apply them regularly. When you’re choosing a mineral sunscreen, look for the highest zinc oxide content you can find, as well as for “non-nano” particles (microparticles), which cannot be absorbed into the skin. Nanoparticles and their impact on the body when absorbed into the skin have not yet been properly researched.

Morning Skin Care on the Peaks

Sun Care

Before heading out to the slopes, it’s worth taking a few extra minutes to look after your skin. Take these three steps to guarantee proper skin protection in the mountain climate:

Step 1: Cleanse and tone your skin, apply your favorite serum (ideally with vitamin C), and then a moisturizing day cream. Apply a light cream with SPF as a base for your makeup and let it dry completely. I’ve fallen head over heels for Eight Hour Cream with SPF 50 by Elisabeth Arden.

Step 2: Apply makeup with an SPF of at least 30. It’s also important to use waterproof makeup. You might not be swimming in the sea, but you probably will end up sweating! Try Sun Foundation SPF 30 by Shiseido for example.

Step 3: Wrap up by applying a mineral powder with SPF over your makeup. That way you’re applying a highly effective layer with a purely physical blocker, as well as rounding out your look with beautifully even skin. For instance, try the great Bare Minerals Matte powder with SPF 15.