Why Dermatologists Say You Should Wear Sunscreen All Year Long

Ahh, fall. The air is crisp, the leaves are crunchy, the sweaters are cozy…and the sun is as big a danger to your skin as ever. While summer sun might get all the headlines, you can’t just ignore your skin the other nine months of the year, especially if your active lifestyle includes thing like outdoor runs, weekends on the ski slopes or even just a daily commute. We spoke with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Fayne Frey, the founder of educational skincare website FryFace.com, to get her tips for how to prevent sun damage all year round.

When you are adapting your sunscreen routine for fall and winter, is there a difference in any of the formulations you should use?

Ever heard an expert say the best sunscreen is the one you’ll use? That’s true all year round. “My best advice is to use the best sun protection available 365 days a year. The best sunscreen is a broad spectrum sunscreen, with an SPF of 30 or higher. The difference between summer and winter is that the frequency needed to apply sunscreen decreases with less activity and sweating or swimming. The need to apply a sunscreen every two hours in the winter may not be necessary, where it would be highly recommended if playing volleyball on the beach in mid July,” says Dr. Frey.

Many people associate sunscreen with breakouts—what’s the skin routine you recommend in the drier winter months?

As far as sunscreen causing breakouts, the jury is still out, according to the available research. “It is possible that a given individual can react to a given ingredient in a sunscreen. This inflammation may lead to perceived breakouts,” says Dr. Frey. In addition, there is some evidence that moisturized skin has a lower tendency to breakout than dry skin. “Applying a facial moisturizer twice daily may diminish breakouts in individuals who are prone to acne, especially during the dry winter months.”

What order should you apply sunscreen, moisturizer, etc., and how effective is makeup/foundation with sunscreen added? Sure, it’s not enough for a full day in the sun, but will it get you safely through a winter commute?

The order of application for skincare products is always prescription medications, moisturizers, sunscreen, foundation, blush and colored cosmetics. “Women rarely, if ever, apply makeup thick enough to get the protection found on the label. Yes, the small amount of protection from the makeup is better than nothing, but I would still advise the consumer to apply a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen prior to makeup application to assure adequate UV skin protection,” says Dr. Frey. Plus, foundation isn’t applied to ears, lips and other areas where skin cancer is commonly found, so you’ll need to plan for those areas anyway.

Should people be concerned with a Vitamin D deficiency over the course of the cold months?

“Adequate Vitamin D consumption is always a concern, regardless of the season,” says Dr. Frey. “Unfortunately, there is no safe level of UV exposure from the sun or from indoor tanning for vitamin D synthesis without risking skin cancer development. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends vitamin D be acquired from foods rich in vitamin D and/or supplements. It should never be obtained from unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation.” Vitamin D is particularly important for women, as it has several health benefits, most specifically fostering bone growth, bone density and boosting the immune system, and the concept that too much sunscreen can lead to a deficiency is an unfortunate myth.

The overwhelming number of cosmetic changes that are seen on the skin, including pigmentation, fines wrinkling, blood vessel formation and loose skin, stem from sun exposure, and even with all the information available, 1 in 5 Americans will still be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. So whether you’re on the slopes or just in the office, do yourself and your skin a favor and make sunscreen a year-round staple.

Kate Winick is a writer and social media editor in NYC. The decade-long yoga and Pilates practice, and every rowing, boxing and barre class under the sun are really just the foundation for her foodie obsessions.