On cold, frosty days, you might find that your skin becomes dry quite quickly. This can be caused by many things you might expect: biting winds, dry air, and dehydrating central heating. Yet, you may be surprised to find out that your skin is still at risk of ultraviolet (UV) radiation in the colder weather.

In fact, the winter sun's UV rays can be a major culprit of dry skin. Sunscreen should be a part of your year-round routine, and you'll benefit from using sunscreen for dry skin symptoms.

What Causes Dry Skin?

In essence, dry skin is caused by an impaired protective barrier. This barrier plays a vital role in retaining water and lipids in the skin and defending it against bacteria. But, when environmental aggressors—like free radicals and UV radiation—damage the skin, the barrier is weakened and moisture and lipids leak from the dermis. The result? Dry, sensitive, and flaky skin.

How Can Sunscreen Help Prevent Dry Skin?

As UV rays pose a threat to your skin's barrier function and put you at greater risk of premature aging and cancer, it's really important to provide your skin with the protection it needs. UV radiation penetrates the deep structures of the skin, causing cumulative damage and depleting its natural levels of collagen and elastin. This can leave the skin very dry, sensitive, and less able to protect itself from aggressors.

But, how do UV rays damage the skin when there's no sunshine in sight? Put simply, UVA—the rays responsible for the majority of skin aging—is present all year round and can even penetrate clouds and glass. The Skin Cancer Foundation states that even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun's UV radiation reaches the earth. This means that it still poses a threat even on the coldest of days.

UVB rays, on the other hand, have a shorter wavelength and cause that uncomfortable sunburn associated with sunny, hot weather. That said, while UVB is more prevalent in the summer months, it's also present in the winter and can be particularly strong at a high altitude, such as on a ski slope. The Skin Cancer Foundation explains this is because snow and ice reflect UV rays directly back at you, hitting your skin twice. So, sunscreen in the cold is still necessary.

Choosing the Right Sunscreen for Dry Skin

To effectively protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen every morning, all year round. Today, there are so many types of sunscreen suited to individual skin types and concerns, so it's easier than ever to find one that's perfect for you.

When choosing a sunscreen for dry skin, look for a lightweight yet hydrating formula, such as EltaMD's UV Sheer Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+ or EltaMD's UV Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 44. Apply it as the last step in your skin care routine, after your usual serum and moisturizer, to keep your skin feeling soft and hydrated all day long. Don't forget to cover all areas of exposed skin, like your face, ears, and back of the neck.

If your skin is already quite dry and flaky, you should avoid things that can cause further aggravation to the protective barrier, like hot baths and showers or irritating skin care ingredients, like alpha-hydroxy acids or fragrances. You should also avoid cleansing the skin too frequently, as it can exacerbate dryness and redness. To prevent dryness, you should frequently reapply sunscreen throughout the day to keep your skin barrier moisturized and protected from the sun.

Sunscreen is a useful tool for keeping winter skin healthy; you just have to find one that works for you and fits well into your existing routine. Ultimately, the right sunscreen for dry skin is one that makes you feel good both inside and out.


  • Catherine Hufton

    Catherine Hufton is a UK-based freelance journalist and writer who has worked for some of fashion's most iconic companies and written for the world's best known magazines and newspapers. Beginning her career at Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion over 12 years ago, she has created content for L'Oréal, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, The Telegraph and more.

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