Snow activities pose a risk of sunburn and skin damage because ultraviolet (UV) radiation levels are higher in alpine regions when compared with sea level. UV is also reflected by snow. Wear a balaclava or beanie, and use sunglasses and broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen. Snow blindness (photokeratitis) is sun damage to the cornea of the eye that is caused by UV radiation.
Most Australians are aware of the dangers of ultraviolet (UV) radiation during summer. Winter activities such as snow skiing or snowboarding also pose a high risk of sunburn and skin damage. UV radiation is more intense in alpine regions than at sea level because the atmosphere is thinner at the higher altitude. This allows more UV rays to reach the earth’s surface.
Snow is also very efficient at reflecting UV radiation so that exposed areas such as the face are at increased risk of sunburn and skin damage. Don’t be fooled by cold and cloudy days – you can still get sunburnt in the snow. Always cover up with clothing, eye protection and sunscreen.
Protective clothing and hats to wear in the snow
- A balaclava or beanie that covers your ears will keep your head warm and reduce UV exposure.
- Scarves and jackets with high collars do a great job at keeping you warm and dry, but also protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
Apply sunscreen for sun protection in the snow
- All exposed areas of skin should be covered in water-resistant, broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen (broad spectrum means it protects against UVA and UVB rays).
- Apply sunscreen about 20 minutes before going outside (this allows time for it to be absorbed by your skin).
- Put some sunscreen in your jacket pocket and reapply every two hours.
- Never use sunscreen as the only form of sun protection, as it does not offer complete protection.
- Apply SPF 30+ lip balm or zinc cream to protect your lips.
Seek shade from the sun in the snow
Wherever practical, consider taking indoor rest breaks, especially through the middle of the day when UV levels are high.
Check the SunSmart UV Alert for daily sun protection times (available online or as a free SunSmart application for your phone). The sun protection time is an indication of when the UV Index (UV radiation intensity) is forecast to be 3 or above. There is also a free UV Alert widget available on the SunSmart website.
Information can also be found in the weather section of the newspapers or the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology website.
Protect your eyes from snow blindness
Snow blindness (photokeratitis) is sun damage to the cornea of the eye. It is a real risk at the snow. The condition is usually temporary and may last only a few days, but it can be very painful. UV exposure may contribute to other eye conditions including cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye), pterygium (growth of a membrane across the eye) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Suggestions to protect your eyes include:
- Always wear wraparound sunglasses or goggles. Aim for a snug fit, so that UV can’t get through the top or sides of your eyewear.
- Choose eyewear that meets Australian Standard AS1067. This means the glasses will block 95 per cent of UV radiation.
- Sunglasses and goggles can be fitted with prescription lenses. See your optometrist for more information.
Protect your children from the sun in the snow
Children need as much sun protection at the snow as you do. Suggestions include:
- Instil good habits early. If you protect your child from a young age, they will learn to be SunSmart through example.
- Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before heading outside and reapply every two hours. Many companies produce sensitive skin formulas that are suitable for children.
- Children's headwear should provide protection for their ears, as well as their heads.
- Toddlers are great imitators and are more likely to wear their sunglasses or goggles if you lead by example and wear yours.
- Eyewear for children should have plastic instead of glass lenses for safety reasons and should meet Australian Standard AS1067.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Your pharmacist
- SunSmart Tel. (03) 9635 5148
- Cancer Council Helpline Tel. 13 11 20
- Multilingual Cancer Information Line, Victoria Tel. 13 14 50
Things to remember
- UV radiation is more intense in alpine regions than at sea level.
- Cover up with clothing and a hat and apply broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin.
- Wear sunglasses or goggles that meet Australian Standard AS1067 to protect your eyes from the damaging effects of UV radiation.
You might also be interested in:
- Skin cancer - children.
- Skin cancer - prevention and early detection.
- Skin cancer - protecting outdoor workers.
- Skin cancer - risk factors.
Want to know more?
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Last reviewed: May 2013
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