Winter Sun Sense

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Most backcountry enthusiasts carry avalanche gear, rescue sleds, first aid kits – after all, safety is a priority in backcountry adventures. But do you always think to pack a bottle of sunscreen? I have for years, but there was a time when I wasn’t so diligent.

Sunny snow days demand screen!

Last year I discovered a small rough, red patch on my forearm that didn’t seem to want to go away. I went to my doctor and a biopsy showed it was a basal cell carcinoma. Fair skin, family history, I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t.

If you think it can’t happen to you, don’t be so sure. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), “between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have either basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma at least once.” The good news is that basal cell carcinomas rarely spread and are completely treatable in their early stages.

Outdoor enthusisasts have an increased risk of overexposure to the damaging effects of the sun. Look at the facts: we’re outside for extended periods of time, often at higher altitudes, and surrounded by reflective snow in winter months. Ultraviolet radiation can be 45-50 percent more intense at 9,000 to 10,000 feet than at sea level, according to SCF.

Should this stop you from heading outdoors? Of course not. Just pack the screen with all the rest of your safety gear and know how use it!

What you need to know about protection from the sun:

  • Use Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 or higher.
  • According to SCF, most people don’t use enough sunscreen. Use at least 1 tsp for the face.
  • Apply every two hours (or immediately after heavy sweating).
  • Don’t forget the lips – use sunblock with at least 15 SPF.
  • Clouds don’t protect from UV rays, use sunscreen every day.
  • Wear sunglasses.
  • Cover up with long sleeves and wear hats when you can.


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