Skiing at 11k feet above sea level puts you two miles closer to the sun. On a sunny day, you can’t help but look up, feel the warmth on your cheeks, and, for a moment, imagine you’re at the beach. I hope you’re wearing your sunscreen!
Although the mercury measures 30 degrees Fahrenheit, your SPF should be more when skiing here in Utah…or anywhere, says Dr. Julia Curtis, a board-certified dermatologist in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Utah. She explains that even if it’s freezing on the slopes, “Skin care is important to protect your skin from UV exposure and also from moisture loss in our dry climate.”
Utah’s location can be a blessing and a curse. Wedged between the Great Basin’s desert and the Rockies that can top 12k feet in elevation, Utah ski resorts enjoy ultra-low humidity that rewards skiers with the lightest powder but, without protection, carries the risk of dry skin and sunburn.
Like lounging on the beach, a skier's skin can burn quicker than you might think depending on various seasonal and individual factors. As Dr. Curtis explains, “Generally, at our high altitude, a person with fair skin can get significant UV exposure within 60 minutes during a bright sunny day on the slopes, which is why we always recommend sunblock and sun-protective clothing.”
This makes sense if you’re wearing a bikini, but most skiers assume they’re covered head-to-toe and adequately protected, only to discover that night, red-faced and chapped, that they were not. Moreover, skiers tend to be outside longer and often don’t realize that they’re two miles closer to the sun’s damaging rays.
However, the solutions to ski skincare are easy, and the benefits go beyond avoiding sunburn. Dr. Curtis, an avid skier as well as a skin cancer expert, recommends:
-a helmet with a visor
-buff or mask
-sun protective clothing
The goal is no exposed skin. “I know this sounds drastic, but not only does it protect against skin cancer, it also protects against skin aging and wrinkles,” she advises. If avoiding wrinkles isn’t a bonus, these items will keep you warmer, too.
Sunscreen, especially on the nose, face and forehead, is obvious protection to many skiers, but like choosing skis and snowboards, there are so many factors. Dr. Curtis recommends a sunblock with at least, SPF 50, and personally prefers ones with "physical" blocking properties over chemical ones, which some research suggests may be damaging coral reefs. “I always look for a sunblock with the highest amount of zinc oxide first , then titanium dioxide,” she explained. Forget the old pasty-looking ones Spicolli once wore on his nose. Newer ones blend in transparently and that is, in his immortal words, “Awesome! Totally awesome!”
However, while most remember to schmear on the sunblock, Dr. Curtis reminds folks to protect their most exposed feature—lips. Not only do they dry out quickly while soaring down ski runs, but they are also particularly susceptible to signs of aging, and as she warns, “a common place for skin cancer to arise, and squamous cell carcinoma can be particularly more aggressive in this location.”
So, does a lip balm exist that stays on after pulling a mask up and down, has SPF, a great blocker and, perhaps, a little tint? There are many products available with SPF that go on smoothly and stay on for hours, such as Jack Black Lip Balm. For a little glow, Dr. Curtis suggests TiZo and Coola, tinted/color physical blocking lip protectants.
If you’re only reading this article after an incredible storm day that provided unexpected slope-side microdermabrasion, the good doctor advises you to grab white petrolatum to soothe and repair those lips emphasizing, “NO Neosporin. Just plain ointment…ven if someone avoids petroleum products, a non-medicated ointment is best.”
And for the rest of our bodies, Dr. Curtis recommends a moisturizing “CREAM FROM A TUB, NO LOTION FROM A PUMP BOTTLE.” She seems rather emphatic about that! She explains, “Any cream that goes through a pump bottle is thinned with water or alcohol and thus not as emollient as a cream in a tub.” Some of dermatologists’ favorites, such as Eucerin, CeraVe, Cetaphil and Gold Bond are affordable and available at most grocery stores and pharmacies. After a long day skiing on the mountain, take a hot shower or bath and apply immediately afterward to damp skin. This traps moisture into the skin and is the best prescription for ski skincare, along with a giant glass or two of water. As Dr. Curtis likes to remind everyone, “We hydrate from the outside in.”
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