February 18, 2002
American Academy of Dermatology:
Think the Sun Is Less Dangerous in Winter Than in Summer? Think Again!
Athletes and Spectators at Outdoor Olympic
Events Need to Practice Sun Safety
you're a spectator at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and think you
have nothing in common with the athletes in the Games, you are wrong.
Athletes, spectators and anyone outside during the winter, risk overexposure
to the sun, because most people assume the winter sun is weaker and less
dangerous than the summer sun and therefore do not wear proper sun
protection. However, two recent studies show that if you're at a higher
altitude, for example, in Salt Lake City, and especially watching the skiing
events, your risk of developing a sunburn is greater.
"People know that the sun's rays are dangerous, but that does not always
translate into recognizable protective actions," stated dermatologist
Darrell S. Rigel, MD, Clinical Professor, New York University Medical
Center. "These two studies are relevant for both athletes and spectators at
the Olympics. Even if you're just walking around the Olympic Village, it's
important to remember that snow reflects more than 80 percent of the sun's
rays, even on cloudy days. That's why everyone should wear a broad-spectrum
sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher and reapply it
every two hours."
The first research study used a hand-held meter to measure UV light energy
in three locations: Vail, Colorado; Orlando, Florida; and New York, New
York. The readings were taken at solar noon in direct sunlight on cloudless
It was found that direct ultraviolet-B (UV-B) levels at 8,500 feet in Vail,
Colorado, were approximately 60 percent higher than at sea level in New
York, and the direct UV-B levels in Vail were the same as those in Orlando,
a site nearly 775 miles closer to the equator.
Ultraviolet-B, and ultraviolet-A (UVA), the sun's other invisible, damaging
ray, can cause suntan, sunburn, and sun damage. This exposure to ultraviolet
light, especially UV-B, is one of the key factors in the development of skin
cancer. An estimated 1 million new cases of skin cancer will occur in the
United States this year, and, 9,600 people will die of the disease.
These results suggest that a person with an average complexion, who is not
wearing any sun protection, would burn after only six minutes of sun
exposure on a clear day at noon in Vail at 11,000 feet above sea level. The
same person would develop sunburn after 25 minutes of noontime exposure in
New York or 14 minutes of unprotected noontime exposure in Orlando.
"It's important for individuals living or visiting high altitude regions in
the U.S. to recognize the increase in UV exposure and take extra precautions
to prevent sunburn," said Dr. Rigel.
Another study followed 105 skiers in Vail, Colorado over a one-week period
in January of 2001. Each participant was given an unmarked bottle of
sunscreen (either SPF 15 or 30) and instructed to maintain a log of the
amount of time they spent outdoors as well as the amount of sunscreen
The purpose of this study was to determine the factors that influence how
effective sunscreens were in protecting from sunburn in an intense
ultraviolet environment. After analyzing factors associated with burning,
the study concluded sunscreen, when used correctly, was an effective defense
from sunburn when in an open aired, highly elevated, sun exposed and sun
reflective environment. The data further revealed that of those who
re-applied sunscreen every 2.5 hours or more frequently were five times less
likely to sunburn compared to those who applied sunscreen every two hours or
"Skiers and those watching any outdoor Olympic event, will receive more than
three times the UV exposure necessary for sunburn," said Dr. Rigel. "The use
of sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher with frequent re-applications appears
to be one of the most effective and effortless methods of sunburn
protection. Although this study surveyed those who enjoyed winter sports,
the findings should be applied to those participating in or watching any
Both studies reinforce the AAD's recommendations for effective sunscreen
-- Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at
-- Use sunscreens every day if you are going to be in the sun for more than
-- Apply sunscreens to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors.
-- When applying sunscreen, pay particular attention to the face, ears,
hands and arms, and generously coat the skin that is not covered by
-- Reapply sunscreens every two hours or immediately after swimming or
In addition to wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or
higher, a comprehensive sun protection program includes avoiding deliberate
tanning with indoor or outdoor light, seeking shade, wearing protective
clothing, and limiting exposure during peak hours.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. It is
estimated that 87,900 people in the United States will be diagnosed with
invasive and non-invasive melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, in
2002. This is a 4 percent increase for invasive melanoma from 2001. In
addition, approximately 7,400 deaths will be attributed to melanoma in 2002.
The American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most
influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With
a membership of over 14,000 dermatologists worldwide, the Academy is
committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical, and cosmetic
treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical
practice, education, and research in dermatology; supporting and enhancing
patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin. For more information, contact
the AAD at 1-888-462-DERM or
Data source: American Academy of Dermatology
Source: PR Newswire