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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 12/27/05
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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UC HEALTH LINE: Beat Winter Skin Damage with Sunscreen--And Less Soap

Winter’s with us. And just when you think it’s safe to go frolicking under the weak winter sun, a University of Cincinnati dermatologist warns that you need to protect your skin just as carefully in January as you do in June. 

What’s more, says Brian Adams, MD, a sports medicine specialist and associate professor of dermatology, not only should you continue to smear on sunscreen to reduce the continuing risk of skin cancer. If you’re over 35, and certainly over 50, you should also go easy on the soap. That’s right … soap.

Most people today are aware that too much exposure to ultraviolet light can lead to skin cancer, says Dr. Adams. But they don’t realize that there’s no real letup to the risk in the winter months.

“Many people put on sunscreen when it’s hot out,” says Dr. Adams, “because they feel hot and sweaty. In the winter, especially in colder parts of the country, the temperature cue doesn’t exist, and people simply forget the risk.

“They think that because it’s winter, and the sun’s down at a lower angle, they don’t need to. And they know that people rarely get burned.

“What they ignore is that even though it’s winter, even when it’s cloudy, the sun is out and it’s still radiating ultraviolet light. ‘Hot spots’ like the face, ears and the backs of the hands are still open to ultraviolet exposure, and in some men that includes the scalp, too.

“It’s no surprise that the main area we dermatologists end up treating is the face and hands.”

People should remember, says Dr. Adams, that ultraviolet exposure adds up all year round. Winter is no exception. It’s like continuously putting a little money in the bank, he says—and it’s a bad bank.

So, he advises, use sunscreen on the exposed areas in wintertime too, and reduce your risk of skin cancer, which can lead to the very serious cancer known as melanoma.

Sunlight is not the only winter skin problem, Dr. Adams says. There’s also the risk of dry, itchy skin, especially in Cincinnati’s arid winter climate. Dry skin can lead to various forms of skin irritation called eczema, which frequently need to be treated with steroids and topical medications.

Everyone, Dr. Adams says, should use a skin moisturizer during the winter. Most of these products, he says, now also contain a sun blocker too.

But, when Dr. Adams tells his older patients how to deal with dry skin in winter, “they look at me as though I’ve lost my mind,” he says.

“If you don’t live in a moist region, and that would be something like the Rain Forest, stop using soap on your legs, back and chest,” he advises.

“Soap removes natural moisturizing oils, which the body produces less of as we age,” he says. “It’s typical for a 50-year-old to go to a dermatologist itching and scratching because harsh soap has removed those essential oils.

“Plain water gets you perfectly clean, so save the soap for your face, arms and groin,” Dr. Adams says.

According to the American Cancer Society, most of the more than 1 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer diagnosed yearly in the United States are sun related. Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will account for about 59,600 cases of skin cancer in 2005 and about 7,800 of the 10,600 deaths due to skin cancer each year.

UC Health Line contains timely health information and is distributed every Tuesday by the UC Academic Health Center Public Relations and Communications Office.

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