Don’t be fooled by the icy weather. Remember, it’s the sun’s UV rays – not heat – that can cause sunburn, skin and eye damage and skin cancer.
Why is UV a risk at the snow?
UV levels can be more intense at the snow because there is less atmosphere to absorb UV radiation. UV radiation intensity increases by about 10–12% for every 1000 metre increase in altitude.
Snow is also highly reflective. On a sunny day, clean fresh snow can reflect up to 90% of UV radiation. This means that you can be exposed to almost a double dose of UV – directly from the sun and reflected off snow-covered surfaces.
What about windburn?
While wind can dry and irritate the skin, there is actually no such thing as windburn. The red, stinging and peeling people associate with the wind is actually a result of the sun’s UV rays.
Protecting your skin at the snow
Snow gear should cover most of your body, as it is designed to keep you warm, but you will need to protect your eyes and any skin exposed from UV rays. To reduce your UV exposure, take breaks in the shade – especially in the middle of the day when UV levels are highest.
Slop on SPF30 or higher broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen
Apply a generous amount of sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin 20 minutes before going outside and re-apply every two hours. Snow reflects UV radiation, so make sure you apply sunscreen under your chin, beneath the tip of your nose and behind your ears.
It’s a good idea to carry a small tube of sunscreen and SPF lip balm in your jacket pocket for re-application during the day.
Slide on goggles or wrap-around sunglasses
Make sure your eye protection meets Australian Standard AS:1067. If you wear prescription glasses, talk to your optometrist about getting prescription lenses fitted in your goggles or sunglasses.
Eye protection can also help to prevent snow blindness (also known as photokeratitis), which is caused when UV levels damage the outer cells of the eyeball. Snow blindness results in temporary loss of vision, and can lead to chronic eye conditions in severe cases.