Why Skiers Often Get Sunburnt & How to Prevent It
Around ski, towns are known as goggle-tan, but back home, they might call you a raccoon, the white mask around your eyes in stark contrast to the redness of the rest of your face. It’s the dead of winter, so what happened?
Skiers spend all day outside at high-altitudes where the UV rays are much stronger (the atmosphere is thinner and less protective). On top of this, sunlight bounces off snow and cloud which increases the power of the sun's radiation. This makes sunburn more likely which is why it's so important to wear suncream.
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Between high altitude, the reflection off the snow, and the fact that skiers are frequently outside for hours at a time - sunburn is a real danger. To mitigate the risks of exposure you should always be wearing high factor sunscreen, lip balm, and eye protection - either sunglasses or ski goggles.
Why is the sun more intense when skiing?
- Altitude - Many ski areas are located at higher altitudes than where you might live. The closer you are to the sun, the more intense the sunshine is because the atmosphere is thinner and filters out less of the UV rays.
- Reflection off the snow - You probably know that when you go to the beach or the pool, the sunlight reflects off the water at a higher intensity. The same thing happens with the snow: it’ll reflect more of the UV rays back at you, so you get a double-whammy from the sky and the ground.
- Exposure - Okay, so this one has nothing to do with the intensity of the sun and everything to do with the person. How often back home are you out in the sun for quite as long as you are skiing? When you’re out there for that long, do you put on sunscreen? Chances are, the answer is yes.
How can I protect against sunburn while skiing?
- Sunscreen - The higher the SPF (sun protection factor), the better! While hiking back home, you might get away with SPF 15 sunscreen, that’s not going to cut it here. Again, because of the higher altitude and the snow-glare, the sun is a lot more intense, so you’ll need a higher protection factor.
Personally, I recommend Vanicream Suncream Sport It’s SPF 35, made for skiers, not greasy (meaning it doesn’t get my neckwarmer all icky), and it moisturizes my skin as well which is key in dry climates like Colorado’s.
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- Lip balm - Your lips are more sensitive to sunlight than the rest of your face, so don’t forget to protect them as well! If you look closely at your favorite chapstick or lip balm, you’ll see that most brands also list their SPF.
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Don’t expect that SPF to be as high as with sunscreen, in most cases. But then again, you’ll typically reapply chapstick a little more frequently anyway!
- Goggles or Sunglasses - During the summer, you’d rarely go out without a pair of sunglasses on. Even though it’s winter-time, you should have the same habits when you’re skiing. Believe it or not, you can sunburn your eyeballs in a medical condition called snow blindness.
Not the way you want your ski trip to end, trust me. Not convinced, read up on why you should really wear ski goggles. P.S Read my review of the best ski goggles if you need a new pair for your next trip to the mountains.
If you find goggles claustrophobic or uncomfortable, try a good pair of polarized sunglasses. They won’t keep you as warm, and brightness at the peripherals of your vision can still cause issues too. But they’re better than nothing.
- Cover-Up - I know that it gets warm when you’re shredding the slush come spring, but if you’re out there in a t-shirt (or bikini, or shirtless), you’re opening yourself up to an increased chance of burning.
What do I do if I do get sunburnt?
Sometimes even if you’ve been careful and put on sunscreen, you might get sunburnt anyway. Maybe you missed a spot when you were applying sunscreen, or maybe you didn’t reapply enough, or maybe you didn’t use a high enough SPF. It happens.
Aloe Vera Gel is a great post-burn alleviative, but above all, make sure that you’re drinking tons of water: it’s important after sunburn because sun draws the fluid to the surface of your skin, and your body already requires more water at altitude.
But it wasn’t even sunny!
It’s not only sunny days that can injure your eyes or skin. In fact, I frequently find that the worst sunburn and snow blindness injuries occur on overcast days -- again, with the sun reflecting off clouds and the snow creating a bad mix, as well as skiers just plain not taking care of their eyes the way they would on brighter days.
It goes back to taking care of yourself when you’re spending time outside. If you were going to spend a day on the beach back home, you’d put on sunscreen even if it was a little cloudy. The same goes for skiing. Just because it’s winter, it doesn’t mean you’re any more impervious to the sun’s rays.
So how do I keep myself safe on my next ski trip?
If you want to avoid goggle-tan and snow blindness on your next ski trip, the main key is to be vigilant and take care of yourself.
Remember that you’re at high altitude and that the sun’s rays coming off the snow is going to be intense, and take the necessary steps to prevent burns. That means covering up exposed skin, slathering on sunscreen and lip balm, and keeping your eyes safe behind goggles or sunglasses.
Weird tan lines, or a trip to ski patrol, are never flattering, so avoid these by understanding the reasons that skiers frequently get sunburnt and taking preventative measures so you can enjoy your trip.