The hidden dangers of winter sun


Once summer is over, many people pop their sunscreen to the side in their bathroom cabinets.

But according to Dr Paul Banwell, founder and former head of The Melanoma and Skin Cancer Unit (MASCU), we're still at risk of developing skin cancer in the winter months.

As winter is now on the doorstep of those in the Northern Hemisphere, Dr Banwell has shared his top tips for protecting skin even when it's cold and dark.

Always wear sunscreen

The use of sunscreen has been shown to reduce the incidence of skin cancer as well as the signs of ageing.

"To achieve maximum protection against UV radiation, sunscreen should be applied to everything that's being exposed to the sun, even the scalp," he advised. "I, therefore, advocate daily use of sunscreen throughout the year."

Avoid sunbeds

Though some people may miss looking tanned during the cooler months, Dr Banwell insists sunbeds are never a good idea.

"Intense exposure via sunbed use dramatically increases the risk of skin cancer formation (between 30-70 per cent) and thus avoidance of sunbeds is mandatory," he argued. "There is a lot of misunderstanding about sunbeds. I say categorically it does not give protective tans. Sunbeds bring on premature ageing, wrinkling of the skin, eye problems and a high risk of skin cancer."

Don't forget the eyelids

Of late, there has been an increase in skin cancer around the eyes.

"Most people just don't think to put sunscreen there but the skin on the eyelid is very thin and is easily damaged by sun exposure, even in winter. It's really important to apply sunblock around the eyes and on the eyelids," the expert explained.

Check for moles

Look out for new or existing moles that are darkly pigmented, change in colour and/or size, have an irregular outline and itch, bleed or crust.

"If you are unsure or concerned that you may have one or more of these symptoms, visit your GP. They will examine your skin and be able to refer you if necessary," said Dr Banwell.

Apply sunscreen before playing winter sports

Some winter activities, such as skiing, take place in high altitudes and the sun's UV rays are more intense and the snow reflects and magnifies them.

"This can really increase your chances of developing skin cancer during the winter and it is vital to wear sunscreen and also sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays," he added. "Basically, if you're outside, you're still at risk for skin damage whatever the season."