Skin care during winter

Posted on 27 June 2016

A common misconception is that sun protection should only be used in summer. Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancers and anyone exposed to the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays is at risk – even in winter.

The Skin Cancer Foundation explains that sunlight contains a spectrum of wavelengths, including visible and invisible light. Ultraviolet (UV) light forms part of the invisible spectrum, of which long-wave ultraviolet A (UVA) and short wave ultraviolet B (UVB) reach the earth’s surface.

UVA forms the majority of UV light and contributes to skin ageing and the development of skin cancer, as it penetrates deeper into the skin. It has a consistent intensity throughout the day, all year round, and can penetrate both cloud and glass. Dr Jonita van der Walt, a referring dermatologist for Mediclinic Bloemfontein, therefore advises that it’s important to use a sunscreen even when you are driving.

UVB light is more intense and leads to the redness and sunburn that indicates some degree of DNA damage, which can potentially lead to genetic mutations.

Did you know?
UV light reduces the immunity in your skin and explains why, for example, some people are prone to getting cold sores on sunburnt areas.

Winter sun
During winter you should still protect your skin from the sun. Clouds don’t stop the penetration of UV light, specifically UVA light. You can get sunburnt on those breezy ‘bright’ days when it doesn’t feel too warm, but if the UV index is high, you’re putting yourself in danger of skin damage.

Slap it on

Tempted to dig out the old bottle of sunscreen you used last summer? Don’t. Sun protection products have an expiry date, as they lose protection factor after six months, so check the date on the packaging.
How you store your sunblock is also important – if the bottle is exposed to sun, it will expire quicker. Dr Van der Walt says your sunscreen has definitely expired if it has separated or crystallised, in which case discard it and get new sunscreen. ‘Make sure your sunblock has a high SPF (30+) and covers for both UVA and UVB,’ she adds.

Give your skin some TLC
Moles See a doctor if you’re prone to moles, have new or changing moles, or if you notice a scab or sore that crusts, bleeds and won’t heal in four weeks.
Skin screen Book an annual skin screening – but go more frequently if you have a higher risk of skin cancer, or had even one bad sun exposure in your life.
Dry skin Our skin tends to become dryer in winter, especially in areas with a cold, dry climate; and also gets drier as we age. Regularly apply an extra-moisturising cream, especially if you have a tendency to develop eczema.

Use plain emollients without colourants/fragrances liberally. Emollients with an oil base will moisturise more than water-based ones. For very dry skin a moisturiser that contains urea or lactic acid may be helpful.

Be careful of too much soap, especially anti-bacterial soaps or cleansers that contain alcohol, which dries out your skin even more. You can also use an emollient as a soap substitute.

Soaking in a burning hot bath feels wonderful on a cold night, but the intense heat of a hot shower or bath actually breaks down the lipid barriers in the skin, which can lead to a loss of moisture. Rather wash with warm water.
Extremely dry skin can be a warning sign of dermatitis. If you develop a skin rash that does not heal with home-based treatments, consult your doctor or a dermatologist.

Who gets dry skin and why?
Skin becomes dry when it loses too much water or oil. Anyone can get dry skin, although some people are more prone to it – and environmental or hereditary factors also play a role. Here are some common causes of dry skin:
Age As we age, our skin becomes thinner and drier. By our 40s, we need to use a good moisturiser every day.
Climate Living in a dry climate or very windy area will affect your skin.
Skin disease People who had eczema (atopic dermatitis) as a child tend to have dry skin as adults. Psoriasis also causes very dry skin.
Occupation People in industries like nursing, beauty, hospitality, construction and so on often immerse their skin in water throughout the day. This can cause the skin to become dry, raw, and cracked.
Swimming Some pools have high levels of chlorine, which can dry the skin; as can saltwater pools or swimming in the ocean.

Published in Dermatology

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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