SunSmart warning for snow visitors – don't be fooled by frost or 'windburn'

Wednesday 1 June, 2016

Victorians headed to the snow this winter are being warned not to pack away their sun protection just yet.

SunSmart Manager Heather Walker said alpine regions were sunburn hotspots in winter, when high altitudes and snow can result in an increased risk of ultraviolet (UV) damage.

“When it’s cold outside, sun protection is the last thing on our minds,” Ms Walker said.

“But don’t let the frost fool you – if you don’t take the proper steps to protect your skin, UV damage will add up and increase your risk of skin cancer.”

Despite the cold climate, UV levels can be more intense at snowfields than other areas of the state in winter because of the double dose of UV radiation visitors can receive.

The first comes directly from the sun, but is more intense because UV levels increase with elevation. Measurements taken in Victoria suggest UV levels increase by 10–12% with every 1000 metre increase in altitude. The second dose comes from snow-covered surfaces, which can reflect up to 90% of UV radiation on a sunny day.

Ms Walker said alpine visitors often mistook sunburn for windburn and incorrectly attempted to prevent skin damage with moisturising lotions.

“While wind can certainly dry our skin, it doesn’t actually burn it. That red, stinging and peeling effect on our skin is actually the result of UV rays,” she said.

“Unlike most weather conditions, we can’t see or feel UV radiation, so we have to be careful not to let our senses trick us.”

Reflective UV can also be very damaging to the eyes and can cause snow blindness, or photokeratitis (a temporary loss of vision).

To prevent UV damage to the skin and eyes this winter, SunSmart recommends all Victorians in alpine areas:

  • Slop on a SPF30 or higher, broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen before heading outside for the day, including a SPF lip balm.
  • Carry a small sunscreen and lip balm in your jacket pocket to re-apply sunscreen throughout the day. Download the SunSmart app from to set regular re-application reminders.
  • Slide on ski goggles or wrap-around sunglasses labelled with the Australian Standard for eye protection (AS:1067).

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