Prevention » SunSmart » At the Snow

At the Snow

Prevention » SunSmart » At the Snow

At the Snow

Don’t be fooled by the icy weather and cold winds that come with the Alpines. Remember, it’s the sun’s UV rays – not heat – that can cause sunburn, skin and eye damage and skin cancer.

Why is UV a risk at the snow?

UV levels can be more intense at the snow for 2 main reasons 1) because there is less atmosphere between you and the sun to absorb potentially dangerous UV radiation and 2) snow is very reflective meaning UV can bounce of the snow surface onto your exposed skin and face. UV radiation intensity increases by about 10–12% for every 1000 metre increase in altitude.

On a sunny day, clean fresh snow can reflect up to 90% of UV radiation. This means that you can be exposed to almost a double dose of UV – directly from the sun and reflected off snow-covered surfaces. So be mindful, especially when skiing all day and especially during Spring time skiing because UV levels will be on the rise again and sunnier "warmer" days may result in more skin being exposed to direct UV radiation, yet maybe not hot enough to trigger sun protection behaviour- so don't be caught out!  

Canberra to Kosciusko

Canberra 580 meters above sea level
Cooma 800 meters above sea level
Jindabyne 915 meters above sea level
Thredbo Village 1365 meters above sea level
Mt Perisher 2,054 meters above sea level
Mt Kosciusko 2,228 meters above sea level

As you can see (table above) travelling from Canberra into the Alpines country means a significant rise in elevation, and with elevation comes higher altitude and increased UV levels and risk of UV related skin damage.

What about windburn?

While wind can dry and irritate the skin, especially the lips, there is actually no such thing as "windburn". The red, stinging and peeling people associate with the wind is actually a result of the sun’s UV rays.

Protecting your skin at the snow

Snow gear should cover most of your body, as it is designed to keep you warm, but you will need to protect your eyes and any skin exposed from UV rays. To reduce your UV exposure, take breaks in the shade – especially in the middle of the day when UV levels are highest.

Slop on SPF30 or higher broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen

Apply a generous amount of sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin 20 minutes before going outside and re-apply every two hours. Snow reflects UV radiation, so make sure you apply sunscreen under your chin, beneath the tip of your nose and behind your ears.

It’s a good idea to carry a small tube of sunscreen and SPF lip balm in your jacket pocket for re-application during the day.

Slide on goggles or wrap-around sunglasses

Make sure your eye protection meets Australian Standard AS:1067. If you wear prescription glasses, talk to your optometrist about getting prescription lenses fitted in your goggles or sunglasses.

Eye protection can also help to prevent snow blindness (also known as photokeratitis), which is caused when UV levels damage the outer cells of the eyeball. Snow blindness results in temporary loss of vision, and can lead to chronic eye conditions in severe cases.