Sunsafe in the snow
When hitting the slopes this winter how much thought will be given to Sun Safety? With millions of skiers/boarders unaware of the dangers of the sun when on the snow, sun burn can be a painful way to end a holiday.
This winter throngs of beginners, intermediates and advanced skiers/boarders will flock to the slopes in search of adrenalin, thrills and fun in the snow. While the dangers of skiing/boarding are well documented; often the dangers of UV radiation on the slopes are overlooked. It has become increasingly apparent that on the snowy trails, windy ski lifts, in blizzards and cloudy days the suns rays pose a danger. Up to 80% of the sun's UV rays penetrate clouds. Visitors are being warned to take at least as much care of their skin on a skiing/boarding holiday as you would on a summer vacation. You could face a greater risk of skin cancer up a mountain than if you were on the beach in the height of summer.
The risk of sunburn and skin damage from UV radiation is much greater in the alpine regions despite it being cold. UV radiation can not be seen or felt - even when the temperature is low, UV radiation is still present and can cause sunburn and skin damage.
UV radiation levels are more intense at high altitudes than at low altitudes (sea level) because the air is cleaner and there is less air to filter the harmful UV rays. UV levels increase by 10-12% for every 1000m of elevation. Thus the higher skiers and boarders go the greater their risk of serious sunburn The summit elevation of Le Brevent, Chamonix (2525m) can have up to 30% more UV radiation that at sea level.
Snow is highly reflective - on a clear sunny day, clean fresh powder can reflect as much as 85% of UV radiation. This means not only does the UV radiation reach you directly from above, but also indirectly from below by being reflected. UV rays are the dangerous rays which cause sun burn and they are stronger at high altitudes than on a beach, as a result there is a significantly increased chance of getting sunburned. You only need to burn once to double your risk or getting skin cancer. The skin exposed during skiing and snowboarding is primarily the face, neck, ears and head. This area has been identified by Cancer Research UK as the main areas for skin cancer to develop. This means that skiers and snow boarders can be burnt in unusual places such as under the chin and nose, even in the shade. In addition to protecting your exposed skin it is important to protect your eyes from the dangers and damage of sunburn. The most common skiing/boarding injury from the slopes is not to the collar bone, the knees or any other limb, but to your eyes. Often neglected is the impact of the 85% of reflection of sunlight from the surface of the snow - 98% of this glare can be filtered out by goggles or glasses. An excruciating result of over exposure of the eyes is keratoconjunctivitis, also known as snow blindness. Snow blindness is essentially sun burn of the surface of the eye. Fortunately it is only temporary, but can lead to long term damage such as cataracts.
The world health organisation estimates 130,000 new cases of melanoma per year. In the UK alone more than 10,400 cases of malignant melanoma were diagnosed in 2006, and over the last 25 years rates of malignant melanoma in Britain have risen faster than any other common cancer. Like most cancers skin cancer is more common with increasing age, but malignant melanoma is disproportionately high in young adults (15-34 year olds). 1500 people die every year in England and Wales from malignant melanoma (Cancer Research UK).
There is a huge correlation between skiing/snowboarding and skin cancer due to the increased UV levels at altitude and the reflection of UV rays from the snows surface. Keen skiers/boarders will be exposed to the suns UV rays for 6-7 hours per day as they search for the ultimate run or perfect a technique.
How to be Sun Safe on the Slopes
Cover up - Most ski clothing is designed to cover most of your body and keep you warm. But don't forget the bits which are not covered.
UV levels are highest from 11-3, so remember to take a break and go indoors or in the shade.
Cover your head with a beanie, balaclava or helmet with flaps to cover your ears.
Generously apply SPF 15+, broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) water resistant sun cream to all exposed areas. Remember to apply sun cream under your chin, under the tip of your nose and behind your ears due to the reflective nature of the sun.
Wear a SPF 15+ or zinc based lip balm
Reapply sun cream every 2 hours and don't burn
Wear goggles or glasses which protect your eyes from at least 95% of UV light.
Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.