Why you need to be wearing SPF in the winter months, too

A dermatologist explains why it's important to wear sunscreen all year round, not just in summer

woman applying skincare
(Image credit: Getty Images / PeopleImages)

You wouldn't dream of packing for a holiday without substantial stocks of your best SPF skincare and sun creams. Nowadays we're all well-versed in the potential risk for skin cancer and how the sun's rays speed up our skin's ageing process. Check and check.

But just because it's not "sunny" outside doesn't mean you don't need some form of protection against UV rays – skipping sun protection in the colder months is one of the biggest mistakes you can make with your winter skincare routine.

Below an expert explains why wearing some form of sun protection is important 365 days a year, not just in summer.

Do you need to wear sunscreen in winter?

Between the months of November and February, the UK falls under the "low risk" range of between 0 and 2 on the UV index, according to Cosmetify (you can view your area's risk level using this handy tool). But low risk still doesn't mean no risk, and therefore an SPF is still required in winter.

"In the winter months in the northern hemisphere, we have very little UVB radiation but there is still UVA around," explains consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto.

"[However] if you work outdoors, do sport or train outside, have extreme sensitivity to the sun, or are simply concerned about your skin cancer risk and skin ageing, then the safest option is to opt for a separate broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30."

So unless you are staying inside with the curtains drawn all day, or going out when it's dark, you need some form of SPF all year round. Remember that if you can see daylight, it can see you (and your skin!).

MORE: Should we still be wearing SPF while self-isolating indoors?

woman applying skincare

(Image credit: Getty Images / RunPhoto)

Is an SPF moisturiser or foundation enough? 

In short, the answer is probably not, but the problem isn't down to the product itself – rather how us consumers apply it. "Studies repeatedly show that we often tend to under-apply our skincare products rather than our sunscreen so we don’t get the same level of protection," says Dr Mahto.

Consider this: you should apply at least half a teaspoon of sun cream to cover your face and reapply every two hours – and you probably aren't going through quite that much foundation or SPF moisturiser every day!

On top of this, our dermatologist also notes that the level of SPF relates only to protection against UVB and not UVA, the latter of which is responsible for premature skin ageing. That's why you need something that offers "broad spectrum" protection to shield against both types of UV rays.

However, provided you don't work in front of a window, "if you are going to work in the dark and leaving in the dark in the depths of December, you probably aren’t seeing much sunlight," she adds. "In which case, if you prefer to wear a moisturiser with SPF it’s probably fine."

There you have it.