Can you still get skin cancer in winter?
As temperatures drop, don't think you can put away the sunscreen and hang up your sun hat. It's important to wear sun protection year-round to lower your chances of getting skin cancer - even in winter.
Even on cool or cloudy days, your skin is susceptible to harm from the sun's UV rays which causes irreversible cell damage, leading to early signs of skin ageing like wrinkles and sagging skin, and heightening your risk of developing skin cancer.
Getting sunburnt just once every two years triples your chances of getting the potentially deadly disease - and yes, you can get sunburnt in winter, too.
This is because harmful UV radiation is present year-round. UV rays can filter through thick cloud coverage to reach your skin and you're unlikely to notice until the damage has already happened, since UV radiation is invisible to the naked eye and can't be felt.
In Australia, UV levels can remain high throughout the year, especially in the northern parts of the country. If you go outside - no matter what the season - any uncovered areas of your body are exposed to UV rays, and sun exposure is the primary cause of skin cancer.
Two in three Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70, with over 800,000 skin cancers diagnosed nationwide every year. That's what makes us the skin cancer capital of the world.
Luckily, it's easy to prevent. Wearing sun protection year-round will help lower your chances of developing the disease, which causes around 2,000 deaths in Australia each year.
In winter, you can protect your skin by:
Sunscreen is the number one protection against sun exposure. Apply a product every day of the year that is SPF30 or higher, broad-spectrum and water resistant. Use it liberally at least 30 minutes before going outside and pay extra attention to your face, ears, hands and arms. Reapply it every two hours or more often if you're swimming or sweating. Applying sunscreen will help to minimise the number of sunburns you get, which reduces your skin cancer risks dramatically.
Protecting yourself in the snow
Winter is the perfect time for a ski holiday, which also offers the ideal conditions for sunburn. In high altitudes, UV rays are even more intense because the atmosphere is thinner. Snow also reflects up to 80 per cent of UV rays, so a day on the ski slopes can be as bad for your skin as a day at the beach.
Just one blistering sunburn increases you risk of skin cancer and five or more sunburns doubles your risk of developing melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer.
Enjoying the sun safely
Take some additional steps to completely protect your skin in winter.
- Use an SPF30+ lip balm
- Cover exposed skin with a long-sleeved shirt or jacket, and gloves
- Wear a hat or beanie that covers your ears
- Wear sunglasses (or goggles in the snow)
- Seek shade between 10am and 4pm when the sun's UV rays are strongest
- Get to know your skin and check it monthly using the ABCDEs of melanoma detection.
Just a few simple steps can help protect your skin year-round. Winter is also the ideal time to get your annual professional skin check - and remember, early detection offers the best chance of successful treatment.