5 sunscreen mistakes you're most likely making – especially in winter

  • Temperatures might be low and we're currently mostly at home, but this doesn't mean our skins don't need protection
  • UV rays can still cause damage and increase our risk for skin cancer, even in winter
  • Even though masks partially cover our faces, it's still not an excuse to stop wearing SPF

Cold fronts are well and truly hitting our shores, with the mercury dropping significantly all over the country. This, however, doesn’t mean you should skip sun protection. Here are the mistakes you are most likely making, exposing your skin to harmful UV rays and increasing your risk of premature ageing.

1. You skip sunscreen altogether

Even though the sun is shining outside, the weaker rays and the cold weather mean that you can safely venture outside without a layer of SPF. Right? Wrong.

According to Dr Maureen Allem, founder and medical director at Skin Renewal, exposure to sunlight, even just for a short period, can cause damage and result in post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. And don’t forget that the South African sun is still potent during the winter months, even though the air might be nippy. You are still prone to sunburn, and you are still increasing your risk of skin cancer. And if you enjoy a weekend drive to go and look at the snow, remember that snow reflects UV rays, increasing their potency.

2. You think it’s okay to skip sunscreen because you're wearing a mask

Now that it’s mandatory to wear a mask when heading outside in public, we tend to think that it’s okay to skip the sunscreen. However, this is not the case. The main purpose of a mask is to reduce the risk of Covid-19, and the materials they're made of may be porous enough to let the rays through. And although the lower half of your face might be shielded, you don’t want to expose the upper half and risk a “mask tan”.

As you wear a mask during the day, your sunscreen can also be rubbed off or absorbed by the material. And by the time you take the mask off in your car, you are no longer adequately protected against the sun. For this reason, you should keep your sunscreen with you and reapply regularly. 

Wearing heavy lotions and products underneath our masks may, however, open the door to another pesky skin woe – breakouts. For that reason, it’s important to choose a light sunscreen formula that you can wear on your entire face without the greasy feeling. There are many lighter options available, especially for oilier skins.

3. You’re indoors all day, so you don’t wear sunscreen

This is one of the biggest sunscreen misconceptions, according to experts. Even when we are in the comfort of our home offices, UV rays can still cause some damage to our skins, especially when we sit near windows. According to Joyce Park, a board-certified dermatologist based in California, standard glass windows are able to block UVB rays, but not UVA rays, which can penetrate even deeper into the skin.

It's not only windows that can expose us to UV rays indoors. Although the effects of blue light from screens on the skin are not yet fully understood, we know that it damages the retina of the eye and reduces the excretion of melatonin, which interrupts your sleep cycle (and sleep is a key factor for healthy skin). But some experts agree that while UV rays damage DNA cells directly, blue light destroys collagen levels in the skin by causing oxidative stress. As we age, the levels of collagen in our skins deplete naturally, but an excessive amount of screen time could also be a culprit.

A study published in the Journal of Biomedical Physics & Engineering in 2018 also found that the light emitted from your electronic devices may increase free radical activity in your skin, which could cause cells to deteriorate faster.

Wearing sunscreen regularly is also simply a good habit and prevents you from accidentally heading outdoors during the day without SPF.

4.  You rely on the built-in SPF in your moisturiser or makeup

While many moisturisers and foundations claim that they contain SPF, the amount we use on our faces is simply not adequate enough to provide protection throughout the entire day. According to Skin Renewal, few of us actually apply enough sunscreen – they recommend a dollop the size of a R5 coin to cover the face alone – and we would hardly use that amount of foundation, which contains a very low SPF in most cases.

5. You are using any old bottle of sunscreen from the bathroom cabinet

Sunscreen expires, just like most other skin or beauty products. “The ingredients in SPF can break down, losing their effectiveness to filter or block ultraviolet light,” says dermatologist Dr Allison Arthur, a board-certified dermatologist in Orlando, Florida. According to Dr Arthur, the general rule of thumb is that sunscreen remains good for a year after opening, but always check your packaging, or write down the date of opening to keep track of the product’s age. Also store your SPF away from direct sunlight and don’t leave it in a car, where it can be exposed to sunlight.

READ | Masks and your skin: What you should know 

READ | 5 reasons for dry winter skin

Image credit: Pixabay

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