Of course, the sun makes us feel good; especially during the winter when the day-time hours shrink, and the darker evenings start to creep in. Just think how much your mood lifts on a stroll through the local park, feeling the November sunshine on your face as you kick your way through the crisp leaves.
While the sun’s feelgood factor is undeniable, it’s important that you’re not fooled by the drop in temperatures … however cold it is outside you still need to be protecting yourself from its harmful rays.
It may sound strange to use SPF all year round but that’s exactly what you should do – even on the most overcast days. This is because damage caused by the sun is not influenced by how hot or cold it is outside. In fact, the ultraviolet (UV) radiation – even on a cloudy day – can still have the same UVA levels as a hot, sunny one in July.
Using SPF helps our skin tolerate these rays as well as preventing early signs of ageing, pigmentation issues and, in the most serious cases, skin cancer. Think of it as part of your daily skincare routine, allowing 20 minutes for your skin to absorb your base layer moisturisers before applying your winter SPF to maintain its effectiveness.
If you’re heading off to the slopes this winter, remember that sunlight intensifies and reflects off snowy surfaces – just as it does off water – so a high-factor sun lotion should be a priority. According to the Skin Care Foundation, UV radiation actually increases by five percent with every thousand feet you rise above sea level. This means the higher up that mountain, the greater your exposure.
The Sunshine Vitamin ...
There is good news though, and when it comes to fighting off flu it seems nature is already one step ahead of us. The sun can actually build our immunity against the virus in the run-up to the winter months. The UV rays stimulate the production of vitamin D – known as the sunshine vitamin – in our bodies and this helps our immune system fight bacteria and viruses.
Unsurprisingly during winter, sun exposure drops significantly as we cover up to protect from the cold. Research shows that lower vitamin D levels are linked to higher rates of cold, flu and respiratory infections. But according to a report in the Journal of the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 50% of adults in the UK have insufficient levels, of whom 16% are severely deficient in winter and spring.
To maintain healthy levels, it is recommended you step outside to get about ten minutes of midday sun, several times a week. Those with darker skin may need a little longer but your exposure time depends on how sensitive your skin is.
Many experts agree that taking vitamin D supplements can help too. The current UK guidelines from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend ten micrograms a day between October and early March. You can also boost immunity with vitamin D-rich foods, such as oily fish (salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, fresh tuna), red meat, liver, egg yolks, fat spreads and fortified breakfast cereals.