• Published
  • By TRICARE Management Activity
  • with contributions by the Torch editorial staff
Winter is here and that means it is time to pull out the sweaters ... and the sunscreen!
Yes, sunscreen. Outdoor fun activities such as skiing, ice skating and sledding can be fun, but it is important to protect your skin from the bitter cold, heavy winds and winter sun.

A 20-year-old Airman recently enjoyed a day of snow skiing. His jacket, hat and gloves kept him warm, but his face looked like a ripened tomato after baking in the sun for eight hours. His damaged skin later peeled like an onion. In another instance, a mother of a newborn had wrapped up her infant daughter to keep her warm while her other two kids played in the snow. A small part of exposed flesh on the baby's nose, cheeks and forehead burned so badly from the sun that it blistered the skin.

When people think about winter, many are so busy protecting themselves from the cold that they forget to protect themselves from the sun. But even if there is snow on the ground, skin can get burnt and damaged by the sun. The sun easily reflects off the snow, and it can bounce up to 80 percent of the sun's ultraviolet, or UV, rays back up at a person.

The sun does not necessarily have to be hot for it to be damaging, either.

Sunburn is the damaging effect on the skin of the UV rays contained in sunlight. Too much exposure to UV light causes the skin to overheat and become red. The painful condition may later peel or blister. Overexposure or prolonged sun exposure is a known cause of premature aging of the skin and skin cancer.

Windburn is skin irritation that occurs when skin is exposed to harsh winds and the top layer of oil is stripped from the skin. The skin swells up and turns red. Windburn is commonly mistaken for sunburn.

Frostbite is the damage that occurs when the skin and/or tissue under the skin freezes from exposure to extreme cold. Most often, frostbite affects the toes, fingers, earlobes, chin and tip of the nose. Affected areas are initially painful, followed by swelling, discoloration and numbness. In serious cases, permanent damage can occur to tendons, muscles, nerves or bone.

It is important to understand how painful and dangerous skin conditions can be avoided during the winter season (see accompanying prevention tips). Enjoy the winter season, but be sure to take care of your skin.