Once the beach days of summer are over, Australians have a real soft spot for hitting the slopes. Whether vacationing in our own native Perisher Blue, crossing the pond to New Zealand or flying to the Land of the Rising Sun many of us have tried our hand at a bit of snowboarding or skiing in winter. If it is your first time however, you might be surprised to hear that sun protection is still important in the colder conditions at the snow.

Sun exposure at the snow

While many people correlate sun burns and the need for skin protection with the beach, the snow and alpine regions can pose just as high a risk of skin damage through sun exposure and intense UV radiation. Here are some important facts to consider when planning a trip to the snow:

  • UV radiation intensity increases with altitude. UV radiation is more intense in alpine regions than at sea level, this is because the atmosphere is thinner the higher up you go, meaning that more radiation reaches the Earth’s surface when you are up in the mountains. In fact, UV radiation increases in intensity by approximately 10% with every 1000 metres above sea level.
  • Snow almost doubles the intensity of UV radiation that you are exposed to. Snow is white and therefore acts as a reflective surface for UV radiation. Fresh snow can reflect up to 90% of the radiation back up from the ground. This means that any exposed skin gets hit twice by the sun, doubling your exposure to damaging UV rays.
    With these facts in mind it becomes obvious that sun protection should be a key concern when planning a trip to go hiking, snowboarding or skiing up in the mountains.

How do I protect myself from the sun at the snow?

The majority of people cover up most of their body when going to the snow, so the area of greatest concern are the face, eyes and any other part of your body that may not be properly covered like the neck, head and hands.

  • Use sunscreen to protect exposed areas of the skin. SPF 30+ sunscreen should be worn at all times when outside. Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before going outside and then reapplied every 2 hours to ensure that it remains in effect.
  • Wear SPF 30+ or higher lip balm. The lips are a particularly susceptible part of the body to sun exposure, so you should make sure to wear lip balm that can offer you protection from the sun at all times. It also has the added benefit of alleviating chapped or dry lips which can be common in colder weather.
  • Wear a hat. While sunscreen is a good start it does not provide complete protection, so a hat which can provide some shade and protect the top of your head is a great addition to your snow gear.
  • Wear sunglasses. Snow blindness is a painful condition caused by sun damage to the cornea of the eye and repeated exposure can lead to other eye conditions such as cataracts. Wearing sunglasses that adhere to Australian Standards AS/NZS 1067 will help alleviate exposure and protect your eyes from sun damage.