People don't often equate wintertime with sunscreen, but they should: not only does the sun emit ultraviolet (UV) rays all year long—even through fog and clouds—but there are also seasonal reasons to stay diligent about sun care in the cold.
For one thing, snow is reflective. It can make up to 80 percent of UV rays hitting the ground bounce back up to you, which means you get nearly double the sunlight exposure on a clear day with snow on the ground. Frosty temperatures can also lead to dry and damaged skin, further raising your risk for sun damage.
So when it comes to proper winter skin care, here's the question: does sunscreen freeze?
Yes, It Can—But Not on You
Like most everything, the compounds in sunscreen can be vulnerable to extreme conditions, and very hot or cold temperatures can make it less effective, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The actual temperature it takes to freeze your sunscreen may vary by its ingredients. Similar to alcohol, which doesn't freeze until it gets very cold, some sunscreens may not form ice crystals or solidify until they hit a certain threshold. But even if the sunscreen remains liquid, or if you thaw a frozen product out, extreme cold can still irreversibly impact the way it works.
This does not mean sunscreen won't protect you when you go out into the cold. Your body naturally radiates warmth, so any sunscreen on your skin will stay regulated enough to work just as it does in the summer. It also won't freeze on your skin for that same reason.
Storage, however, can be more tricky.
Storing Sunscreen in Cold Weather
Sunscreen manufacturers generally recommend that sunscreen be stored in a cool (not cold) dry place, but how do you do that when conditions get frigid?
First, try not to leave your sunscreen anywhere it could get really cold, such as in a parked car or in your bag stored outdoors at the ski slopes.
Instead, get in the habit of keeping your sunscreen indoors or close to you. Having a small bottle of ski sunblock in your inner coat pocket, for example, can help the product stay warm from your body heat. Another advantage is that you'll always have it handy to reapply—which you should do about every two hours or more frequently if you sweat or get wet.
Choosing the Right Winter Sunscreen
Whether it's hot, cold, sunny, or cloudy, everyone needs a daily broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Even though sunscreens work the same way year-round, you might find that some products work for you better in one season compared to another.
Consider these tips as you look for your go-to winter sunscreen:
- Think about the application. Spray sunscreens will probably not freeze in the air, but many people may prefer rub-ons, such as creams or sticks, to avoid a cold spritz on the skin.
- Hydrate thirsty skin. If your skin gets cracked or damaged during cold snaps, look for a moisturizing sunscreen that rehydrates dry skin. You'll also want to find a good lip balm with SPF protection.
- Don't forget water resistance. A water-resistant sport sunscreen won't wash off from snow or sweat, which is ideal for skiers, snowboarders, or winter hikers.
No matter which sunscreen you pick, make sure you're diligent about wearing it—and applying it under any outer layers you might take off as the afternoon warms. Even better, make sure whole-body sunscreen is a regular part of your daily, year-round skin care routine.
So, does sunscreen freeze? The answer is a solid yes and no. Remember, just like with summer, the winter sun's rays can raise your risk for all sorts of problems, from skin cancer to premature aging. Being proactive means you not only get to enjoy the crisp air, but you can do it with the extra peace of mind of head-to-toe protection.