Protect your skin during winter

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In the wintertime, three factors combine forces to wreak havoc on your skin: cold weather, dry air and harsh sunlight.

"It's almost a daily battle to help your skin stay protected during the winter in Steamboat," said Dr. Maryann Wall, who is board-certified in facial and plastic and reconstructive surgery and otolaryngology.

During Steamboat's much-touted 300 days of sunshine a year, you are subjected to more UV radiation than you would be at the Equator. Every 1,000 feet above sea level brings a 10 to 15 percent increase in UV exposure - a key factor in sun damage.

"I call that a recipe for baking at altitude," Wall said.

But all too often, people neglect to protect their skin during snow activities in the winter. Wall has seen more than one spring skier come to Steamboat Springs from sea level and end up seeking medical attention after a sunny day on the slopes.

"They don't wear sunscreen on March days, because it's winter," Wall said. "They get UV radiation at altitude, reflection off the snow, and have no melanin in their skin to protect them."

"We see the most outrageous second-degree (burns), where their eyelids are swollen shut and lips are bleeding, and we have to put them on oral steroids just to calm it down," Wall said.

Wall advised everyone, especially those who participate in outdoor recreation activities, to choose their sunscreen wisely, look over the active ingredients, and pick one they will wear daily.

About 80 percent of the average person's lifetime sun exposure is "incidental" - not from days at the beach or on the ski slopes, but from driving your car and short walks to the mailbox, Wall said.

Not all sunscreens are created equal. First, a sunscreen should be "broad-spectrum" - effective against UVA and UVB radiation. Second, ingredients that physically block radiation from reaching your skin, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are preferable to chemical ingredients that absorb the radiation, Wall said.

The days where zinc oxide is relegated to a stripe for pool lifeguard's noses are over - sunscreens containing the powerful sun protector are now micro-fine and blend into your skin just as well as chemical formulas, Wall said.

Your skin is not the only part of your body susceptible to UVA and UVB rays - eyewear and lip balms should protect against the sun's rays, too, Wall said.

To protect against winter dryness, Wall advised people to take tepid showers - no matter how good a hot one might feel on a cold day - use a non-drying liquid soap or body wash, and to gently pat your skin dry with a towel afterward, Wall said. Also, because moisturizer can only trap moisture against your skin and not add it to your skin, you have a limited time to apply it after showering or bathing, she said.

"It's all part of trying to survive Steamboat winters," Wall said.

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