Sun, slopes, and snow – the perfect combination!

by Lorraine Williamson
winter sun

We are so lucky to live in this beautiful country with countless beaches and mountains. And now that the snow is arriving in parts of Spain, many of us will be longing to ski or snowboard. However, before hitting the slopes, it´s important to be aware of the effects of the winter sun.

When you are skiing, the sunlight will hit your skin from two directions. The first is from direct light. The sun shines on your skin. And, the second is from reflection. Sunlight is reflected off the snow and onto your skin. 

More UV light than at sea level

Also, when you are at altitude, there is less of a protective nature of the atmosphere. Therefore, this decrease in protection allows more UV light to reach your skin and the snow than would occur at sea level. 

While ultraviolet light is definitely weaker in the winter, it reflects 4 times as much off of snow than off of the sand.  For every 1,000 feet above sea level, the amount of UV rays that reach the earth’s surface increases by up to 5 %. This means a mountain at 10,000 feet receives 50 % more UV exposure than the same area at sea level. 

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Snow reflects the sun

Snow reflects around 85% of the sun’s UV rays so whilst the nose is the most common place to burn, you may also burn in unusual places. Look out for the underside of your chin and your ears in particular. Up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays penetrate light clouds, and what gets through can reflect back and forth between the clouds and the snow. So even if it’s cloudy it’s important to protect yourself.  Therefore, it is essential you wear sunscreen ideally with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as these reflect the rays rather than absorbing them.

Winter sun damage

Any sunburn is serious and can cause ongoing health effects.  Therefore, prevention is always better than cure.  Protecting yourself against sunburn is very important as excessive UV radiation directly damages the DNA in your skin cells. Furthermore, in many cases, not all of the sun damage will be fully repaired by the body’s defence system. So it will gradually cause advanced skin ageing over the years and may lead to skin cancer.

Read more: Winter sports in Spain

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