Why you need to wear sunscreen in winter

If your enthusiasm for SPF has cooled off  with the autumn nights, think again.

There is a very good reason to keep wearing sunscreen year round and even when you are not at the beach.

Did you know that your skin is one of the organs that makes up your immune system? One of the most important functions of your skin is protection.

immunity organs

Some sun exposure is good for you (It helps you make Vitamin D, which supports your immunity, has antibacterial properties on acneic skin and new research  indicates the possibility that blue light in sunslight boosts the activity of T-cells, which are an important part of your immune response.)

However there are some scenarios where sun exposure can have a negative effect on the immune function of your skin.

In his book Skin Care Beyond the Basics (Third Edition 2007), Mark Rees PhD (Health Sciences) explains that ‘Exposure to sunlight “chases off” your protective macrophage “guard cells,” allowing substances and organisms to enter the skin, increasing the chance of infection.’

Think about people who get cold sores or fever blisters. When else do they get them?

Flare ups of Herpes Simplex often occur after sun exposure. This demonstrates the immune system’s reduced ability to deal with the virus during sun exposure.

The World Health Organization backs this theory up:

“UVB radiation appears to reduce the effectiveness of the immune system – in the case of cold sores it can no longer keep the virus Herpes simplex under control which results in re-activation of the infection.”

Does sunscreen make a difference supporting the immunity of the skin during sun exposure?

WHO quotes a study in the United States:

“Of 38 patients, who recurrently suffer from Herpes simplex infections, 27 developed cold sores after exposure to UV radiation. In contrast, after the application of protective sunscreen, none of the patients developed cold sores.”

So the answer to supporting your skin’s immune function when exposed to UV radiation is sunscreen.

It is very important to teach children to wear sunscreen daily, all year round. This will protect their little immune systems as well as protect their skin. They will still enjoy the benefits (eg. Vitamin D) from sunlight, but sunscreen will protect them from the negative effects.

Mark Rees adds that “we receive about 80% of the sun’s damage to the skin before the age of 18….most sun exposure is not from sunbathing but from day-to-day exposure.”

In South Africa we lead an outdoor lifestyle almost all year round.  Shielding our skin with sunscreen will prevent premature aging, skin cancers and help support the immune system. So sunscreens should be a habit for every season, as part of a healthy lifestyle. skin-immune-system-figure_1


Any sunscreen will do, but ideally, an they should have an SPF of between 15 and 50. If you want to understand SPF’s better read How high an SPF should you wear?

Sunscreens I love are:

Kalahari SPF 40 (Available at my studio)

Cetaphil Sunscreen by Galderma (Available at Dischem and Clicks)

Island Tribe Gel (For water sports. You can buy it at surf shops, like Xpression on the Beach and Lifestyle. It DOES NOT come off in your eyes and you NEVER get burned) . Island Tribe Cream is great if you on dry land.

I get dermatitis from some sunscreens and the above get my personal allergy all clear. I use Island Tribe on my children for water sports but I prefer a pump or spray bottle of sunscreen for easy daily mass applications.  I buy those at PicknPay or Dischem or Clicks.


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