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Sun Safety

Is the sun safer in the winter?

The connection between sun damage and skin cancer in winter months.
MoleMap Team
November 17, 2023
5 minutes

Win­ter is quick­ly approach­ing, and we can final­ly ease up on wor­ry­ing about sun­burn and skin can­cer and ditch the sun­screen. Or so we thought.

Just because the days are grow­ing cool­er and the sun seems hid­den behind the clouds does not mean our skin is safer from the dam­ag­ing effects of the sun.

When win­ter comes, peo­ple often for­get that there is still sun. The truth is, as long it’s day time, up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can fil­ter through the thick­est cloud cov­er. So while we don’t feel the sun’s heat this sea­son, noth­ing has changed: the skin can still get UV-relat­ed sun dam­age in the win­ter, and we should still be wary of the sun’s effects on our skin.

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Sun Dam­age and Skin Can­cer in the Winter

Skin can­cer risks fluc­tu­ate from sea­son to sea­son. While sum­mer does offer some of the strongest sun rays of the year, that doesn’t mean that win­ter is a time to stop using pro­tec­tion. Radi­a­tion can still bounce off the clouds, mak­ing them more focused and more risky, even when tem­per­a­tures dip.

Allow­ing the sun (even the win­ter sun) to pen­e­trate the skin can cause dam­age to skin cells. Over time, those cells may find it hard­er to reju­ve­nate. Even­tu­al­ly, this type of UV dam­age will change the struc­ture of the cells and how they work, and this may result in skin cancer.

Since too many peo­ple fall for the myth that clouds help pro­tect them from the sun, they may actu­al­ly increase their risk of skin can­cer dur­ing the win­ter months. Canstar Can­nex (via My Body + Soul) reveals less than 20% of the Aus­tralians wear sun­screen dur­ing win­ter. In addi­tion, the extra cloth­ing worn this time of year can make detec­tion hard­er if you aren’t tak­ing the time to look for sus­pi­cious spots and moles, regard­less of the weath­er outside.

The Sun Doesn’t Go Away in the Winter

The days may seem dark­er dur­ing the win­ter time, but the sun is still there, radi­at­ing UV rays. You can’t see or feel UV radi­a­tion, which is one of the rea­sons why peo­ple equate the warmth of sum­mer with them. What many peo­ple do not realise is that the three basic types of UV rays (UB, UVA, UVC), can cause skin dam­age dur­ing any time of the year if they are strong enough.

But how do you know when those rays are dan­ger­ous? The tem­per­a­ture out­side can’t tell you; nor can the amount of sun­shine seen. The most effi­cient way to gauge the strength of the UV rays at any giv­en time is through the UV Index.

This inter­na­tion­al scale ranges from 1 to 20 (with lev­els three and above con­sid­ered dan­ger­ous to the skin). To see Australia’s UV risk in real time, check out the index offered by the Aus­tralian Radi­a­tion Pro­tec­tion and Nuclear Safe­ty Agency.

Cloud Cov­er and UV Radiation

A cloudy day can be mis­lead­ing. Accord­ing to Ver­non Carr, nation­al man­ag­er of pub­lic weath­er ser­vices at the Bureau of Mete­o­rol­o­gy, in an inter­view with ABC Sci­ence,

A lot of peo­ple think that if it’s a hot day they’re going to get a lot of UV so they need to use sun­screen, but on a cold day they’ll be okay. It does­n’t work like that. UV radi­a­tion’s got noth­ing to do what­so­ev­er with the temperature.

UV is affect­ed by many things. One of those is cloud, but it depends upon what type of cloud it is, the thick­ness of the cloud and whether it is deep right through the atmos­phere. UV radi­a­tion can pen­e­trate through thin cloud, so you can still get high lev­els of UV at ground lev­el on over­cast days.

Radi­a­tion can bounce off the sides of the clouds, becom­ing more focused, so we must still be care­ful when out­side, even on a cloudy win­ter day.

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Keep­ing Your Skin Safe dur­ing Winter

Sure, stay­ing out of the sun may be the best way to pre­vent skin can­cer, but who wants to hide indoors all day? It’s always good to enjoy the out­doors, but that does not mean that you have to put your­self at risk. Below are some tips you can apply to avoid dam­ag­ing your skin:

  • Wear sun­screen at all times — no mat­ter the time of day or time of year.
  • Wear a hat, sun­glass­es, and long sleeves.
  • Stay out of the direct sun dur­ing peak UV ray hours (10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.).
  • Check your skin reg­u­lar­ly for odd spots, and don’t ignore any skin changes. Use this arti­cle as your guide to do self-checks.
  • If you notice any spots or moles that con­cern you, vis­it your doc­tor or spe­cial­ist for fur­ther assessment.

What to Do About Odd Skin Spots

You are dili­gent about check­ing your skin for unusu­al spots, lesions, or moles and have noticed some­thing new — what do you do now? First, don’t pan­ic. Not every new spot or mark on your skin sig­ni­fies can­cer. Some of those spots come with nor­mal ageing.

The key is to under­stand the risk fac­tors involved, per­form self-exam­i­na­tions reg­u­lar­ly, and know the red flags. If you deter­mined that you are a high-risk per­son or you’ve found some red flags, vis­it your GP for fur­ther examination.

Spot It to Stop It: Ear­ly Detec­tion Is Vital

Detect­ing skin can­cer ear­ly is the key to a suc­cess­ful treat­ment. So whether the sun is out or not, whether it’s sum­mer or win­ter, it pays to be aware of the signs of skin can­cer — because the sun and its harm­ful rays don’t take a sab­bat­i­cal on win­ter sea­son.

If you need to have it checked by a spe­cial­ist, find the near­est MoleMap skin cancer clin­ic. MoleMap is a trust­ed pro­vid­ed of melanoma detec­tion ser­vices in Aus­tralia. We pro­vide spot checks, skin checks, or a full body mole check to look for signs of melanoma and oth­er types of skin can­cer. Vis­it this page to find a skin clin­ic near you.

MoleMap Team

At MoleMap we check, detect and treat skin cancer. Find out how you can protect your skin at your nearest MoleMap skin cancer clinic.

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