Spring is here and one of the best things about spring skiing are the warm, sunny days. But just because it doesn’t feel like the tropics outside in the snow, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about something very important: sunscreen! Sun protection is just as important during the winter months as it is during the summer. Especially here at elevation – the air is thinner and cleaner due to the altitude, meaning UV rays from the sun are just as strong here as on your summertime beach vacation.
If you’re soaking up the rays without the proper protection you could be doing some serious damage to the long-term health of your skin. But with SPF ranging from 15 all the way to 100, how do you know which one you should use? Will SFP 85 protect you that much better than SFP 20?
A sunscreen’s sun protection factor (SPF) measures how much the product protects against short-wave ultraviolet B rays, known as UVB. The SPF number is a reciprocal function, meaning SPF 15 lets in 1/15 of UVB rays, SPF 30 lets in 1/50, SPF 70 lets in 1/70. Therefore, the difference between SPF 30 and SPF 100 is only 97% effectiveness vs. 99% effectiveness. “As you get higher and higher, it’s not really a practical difference,” said Dr. David M. Pariser, the president of the American Academy of Dermatology. No sunscreen will provide 100 percent protection against the sun, but you definitely want to wear it.
The problem most often isn’t a high enough SPF, it’s that people don’t apply enough sunscreen. Your face and neck alone require 1-1.5 teaspoons of sunscreen to be protected. On average, people apply half as much as they should, and that’s at best. A recent study found that when applying half the amount of sunscreen, you get the protection of about the square root of the SPF. So applying half a teaspoon of SFP 70 to your face gets you the protection of SPF 8.4. Yikes.
So what is the point of higher levels of SPF? Higher SPF levels are helping to bring under-appliers up to par. With SPF 100, people who tend to skimp on how much they apply can come closer to the benefits of properly applied SPF 30. So pick a SPF level based on how much you apply. If you’re applying the proper amount, a higher SPF level won’t increase your protection that much. Also, since SPF doesn’t measure ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, when picking out a sunscreen you should look for one labeled “broad spectrum” which contains specific ingredients to get the best protection.
And don’t forget about your lips! The skin on your lips is even more sensitive to the sun, so be sure to carry lip balm with sunscreen and apply often.
Remember, the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 :00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., which is during prime skiing time. Take the time to properly apply before hitting the slopes, then at least once more during the day.
With your exposed skin safe, you’ll be sure to enjoy sunbathing in those adirondack chairs, and taking advantage of the beautiful spring days we have here at Heavenly! If you’re up here for Spring Loaded, be sure to check out all the fun events – and you and your sunscreen will be happy campers (or skiers/riders.)