Winter: Time for sunscreen and sweaters

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Winter is here and that means it is time to pull out the sunscreen and sweaters!

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.

When any of us think about winter we don't think about the sun or sunburn, we normally associate winter with frostbite and windburn. 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% of the sun's ultraviolet, or UV, rays back up at you. The sun does not necessarily have to be hot for it to be damaging.

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.

To prevent frostbite:

-- Wear warm clothing and dress in layers, including sweaters, thermal underclothes and wool socks. 

-- Stay dry. Wet clothes increase chance of heat loss. 

-- Avoid drinking alcohol before or during exposure to cold weather; alcohol may prevent you from realizing that your body is becoming too cold. 

-- Avoid smoking cigarettes, which can affect your blood vessels, increasing your risk of frostbite. 

At the first sign of redness or pain in your skin, which may indicate frostbite is developing, get out of the cold or protect exposed skin. 

To prevent sunburn and/or windburn:

-- Cover up with a long-sleeved jacket, hat and gloves. 

-- Wear wraparound sunglasses or goggles that offer 100% UV protection. 

-- Pay close attention to the underside of chin and ears. 

-- Wear sun block such as zinc oxide on exposed and sun-sensitive areas. 

-- Wear items like ski masks, which will cover most of the skin, leaving very little exposed to the wind and sun. 

Enjoy the winter season, but be sure to take care of your skin to avoid the damages the cold season can cause. 

(Courtesy of Tricare Management Activity News Service)

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