Just because the beach weather is behind us in most of the country doesn't mean you can forego sunscreen. A research team from San Diego State University analyzed data gathered at 32 high-altitude ski resorts and found that if you're outdoors in the winter, particularly at high altitudes, you need to be concerned about ultraviolet (UV) protection. While average UV levels at the resorts were moderately low, they varied substantially by altitude and increased as hours of daylight lengthened, peaking close to noon. Investigators found that the majority of adults they interviewed weren't focused on appropriate sun protection - lip balm with sunscreen, applying sunscreen a half hour before skiing, wearing gloves and a hat with a brim. As UV levels increased, however, the research team found that the skiers and snowboarders at the resorts were more likely to wear sunscreen, reapply it two hours later and wear sunglasses or goggles. Men were more likely to use sunscreen than women. But overall, the researchers found the ski resort guests were more intent on wearing warm clothing than they were on sun protection. The study was published in the November, 2010, issue of the Archives of Dermatology.
My take? While it is important to protect yourself from UV rays when you are outdoors - winter or summer - it is also important to take advantage of the positive effects sunlight has on health. I've been following the advice of my friend and colleague Michael Holick, M.D., Ph.D., an expert on vitamin D and author of The UV Advantage (iBooks, 2003). Dr. Holick recommends spending at least a half-hour every day in the sun before applying sunscreen.
More on how much sun you need.