You need several essentials when packing for any winter trip to the slopes. Gloves, hat, warm jacket and … sunscreen.

Slathering on sunscreen may not be among your first thoughts when braving the winter elements, but it should be.

“Without doubt, it is essential that you protect your skin from the sun during the winter,” said Dr. Cory Goldberg, a plastic surgeon in Toronto. “Despite what the thermometer says, the sun’s harmful rays are just as strong and damaging to your skin. In the winter, you need protection particularly from the UVA rays which are always present and can penetrate clouds, glass and deeper into the skin. UVA rays are responsible for aging skin, and increased risk of skin cancer.”

Despite wearing layers of clothing, goggles and other gear, you’re still exposed to UV rays while skiing or snowboarding. Many pro athletes consider sun protection mandatory.

“Wake up first thing and put on sunscreen, no matter if it’s a blizzard out or sunny,” Olympic snowboarder Aimee Fuller told Shape Magazine. “It protects your skin from the harsh conditions.

“Goggle tans aren’t cool and you don’t want wrinkles,” she added. “The higher the factor, the better to protect your skin from the harsh reflecting UV rays reflecting off the snow.”

What can you do to protect your skin? Doctors say to start by looking for quality ingredients when picking a sunscreen. Dr. P. Daniel Ward, a facial plastic surgeon in Salt Lake City, Utah, prefers physical blockers rather than chemical sunscreens in the winter months, too.

“I tell my patients to forget about the SPF level and encourage them to instead simply look for products that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which offers protection from both types of UV radiation,” Dr. Ward said.


Related: Experts share their favorite sunscreens at every price


It’s also important to apply sunscreen early, and apply it often.

“When participating in active sports, like skiing, I recommend reapplication every three to four hours and to not forget to protect the lips,” Dr. Ward said.

It’s a common misconception to judge the strength of your sunscreen by the SPF number. Dr. Ward says that number is a guide for how long your sunscreen will protect your skin from UV-B rays. It isn’t a measure of the strength of the product for protection against both UV-B and UV-A rays. That’s why physical blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are so important.

So the next time you’re preparing for a ski trip, or any other winter activity, make sure a quality sunscreen is among your must-have items. And use it!

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