SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is more intense in alpine regions than at sea level and snow is highly reflective, so sun protection is recommended at all times when outdoors at the snow.
- Cover up with clothing and a hat, apply SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum lip balm to your lips and SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin, and reapply every 2 hours.
- Wear sunglasses or goggles that meet Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067 to protect your eyes from the damaging effects of UV radiation.
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UV radiation and snow
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. More UV radiation reaches the earth's surface in alpine regions than at sea level because the atmosphere is thinner at higher altitudes.
Snow is highly reflective of UV radiation. In fact, fresh snow reflects even more UV radiation than water. This means exposed skin is at risk of sunburn and skin damage – even on cold and cloudy days. Always use eye protection, sunscreen and covering clothing at the snow.
Watch a SunSmart video about why you can get burnt at the snow.
Wear protective clothing at the snow
Suggestions for protective clothing at the snow include:
- A balaclava or beanie that covers your ears – this 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 at the snow
Suggestions for using sunscreen at the snow include:
- Cover all exposed areas of skin in SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen (broad-spectrum means it protects against UVA and UVB rays).
- Apply sunscreen about 20 minutes before you go outside.
- Put some sunscreen in your jacket pocket and reapply every 2 hours (even if the label states it is 4 hours water-resistant).
- Use sunscreen in combination with other forms of sun protection (hat, sunglasses, long clothing and shade) and never on its own, as it does not offer complete protection.
- Apply SPF30 (or higher), broad-spectrum, water-resistant lip balm or zinc cream to protect your lips.
Seek shade at the snow
Wherever practical, consider taking rest breaks indoors or in the shade, especially through the middle of the day when UV levels are highest.
Protect your eyes at the snow
UV exposure may contribute to skin cancer of the eye and other eye conditions including cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye) and pterygium (growth of a membrane across the eye).
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.
Suggestions to protect your eyes include:
- Always wear wrap-around 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 AS/NZS 1067. Choose category 2 or higher, or an eye protection factor (EPF) of 9 or 10. This means the lenses will block 95% of UV radiation.
- Sunglasses and goggles can be fitted with prescription lenses. See your optometrist for more information.
Note: Polarised sunglasses reduce glare and make it easier to see on a sunny day however they do not increase the level of UV protection.
Protect your children from the sun at the snow
Children need as much sun protection at the snow as you do.
- Instil good habits early by role-modelling sun protective behaviour yourself. 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 2 hours. Many companies produce sensitive formulas that are suitable for children (and adults with sensitive skin).
- Children's headwear should provide protection for their ears, as well as their heads. Scarves and high collars should protect their neck.
- Toddlers are great imitators and are more likely to wear their sunglasses or goggles if you lead by example and wear yours. If they refuse, hats with a brim can provide some protective shade for the eyes.
- Eyewear for children should have plastic instead of glass lenses for safety reasons and should meet Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067.
What about windburn?
While wind can dry and irritate the skin, there is actually no such thing as windburn. The red, stinging and peeling people associate with the wind is actually a result of the sun’s UV rays.
Where to get help
- Your GP (doctor)
- SunSmart Tel. (03) 9514 6419
- Cancer Council Tel. 13 11 20 – for information and support
- Cancer Council – Support in your own language Tel. 13 14 50
- At the snow, SunSmart.
- Slide on sunglasses, SunSmart.
- Solar and ultraviolet radiation, 2012, IARC monographs – 100D, International Agency for Research on Cancer, France.