Do we still need sunscreen in winter?

Australia has the highest national rate of skin cancer in the world, with two in three Australians diagnosed with the disease by the age of 70. Despite these statistics, less than 20 per cent of Australian men and women wear sunscreen in winter. But do we really need to?

Around 90 per cent of visible ageing is due to sun damage, which causes permanent destruction to skin cells and increases your chances of getting wrinkles, fine lines, sun spots and skin cancer.

Sun damage is not caused by the sun's heat or light, but rather by the ultraviolet radiation it emits, which cannot be seen or felt. As UV rays are invisible to us, you can easily get sunburnt on cool or cloudy days.

Winter days in Australia are much cooler than our harsh summers, but UV levels are a constant threat. It is therefore important to wear sunscreen even in the cooler months, especially if you are spending time in the snow, which reflects and increases the intensity of UV rays.

Regular sunscreen application is especially important for people with fair skin, which burns easily,but other skin types also need broad-spectrum sunscreen every day, such as sensitive and acne-prone skin.

Broad spectrum means the sunscreen protects against both UVB rays, which cause sunburn to the top layer of skin, and UVA, which damages living tissue in the lower layers of skin.

UV rays are damaging because they cause cell dehydration and inflammation to skin tissue, which compromises the immune system. Skin cells are permanently damaged and can eventually become cancerous.

In winter, when UV radiation is less intense, about two to three hours of unprotected sun exposure a week is required to keep up healthy vitamin D levels.Those with a dark complexion need more time in the sun to get enough vitamin D, because the pigment in the skin reduces absorption.

After you have soaked up enough winter sun, put on some sunscreen, hat and sunglasses, and rug up! Winter is also the best time to get a professional full-body skin examination, because your summer tan won't conceal any irregularities in your moles and freckles.