Why you need to wear sunscreen in the winter

— by Leah Hardy

Image: Lindex 

Sunscreen isn’t just for summer. In fact, it’s the most essential part of anyone’s skincare regime. And if you want brighter, more even skin, now is the time to get serious about it.

Winter sunlight in the northern hemisphere won’t give you a tan, and you can’t even convert sunshine into lovely vitamin D between September and April (science bit: it’s to do with the angle at which the sun’s rays hit our skin). However, it can still cause DNA damage to skin cells, destroy our precious collagen and cause uneven pigmentation. Sun exposure is responsible for giving us most of our wrinkles, crepey skin and the unpleasantly named ‘age’ spots. You might assume that once we’ve got them, that’s it, unless we invest in lasers, injectables or expensive skincare. But your best remedy could be something much cheaper and simpler  – daily sunscreen.

When we protect our skin with sunscreen, we give it a break from fighting off toxic, cancer causing UVA rays (they are the ones that don’t burn or tan you). The skin naturally goes into repair mode, and brown spots slowly start to break down and fade. You may also be able to reverse other sun damage, such as changes to skin texture.

Today’s hydrating, sheer, skincare-infused facial sunscreens work perfectly instead of traditional moisturiser to streamline your morning routine. Add an antioxidant serum under your SPF or pick a sunscreen with vitamin C and E in the formula as this boosts sun protection by about 50 per cent. Remember to apply SPF to your ears, neck and chest as well as your face. Rub what’s left after application onto the back of your hands or add a dollop as hand cream.


Charlotte Rampling in the Massimo Dutti campaign.


I know sunscreen works because some years ago, I had a facial scan which showed a lot of sun damage on my upper eyes. It happened on a recent sunny holiday when I’d forgotten my prescription sunglasses and my sunscreen made my eyes sting. I ended up reading by the pool in my normal specs with nothing around my eyes. Big mistake. Huge. The sun on my lowered eyelids, magnified by my specs, caused mottled pigment. However, a year of dedicated sunscreen use later, and the marks were significantly reduced.

But what if you are happy with your skin right now? Think of SPF as an investment in your future. One study showed that people who wore daily sunscreen for 4.5 years showed ‘no detectable increase in skin ageing’. Literally none!

It’s tricky to get the full sun protection promised by the SPF on the label without applying quite a lot of it – about half a teaspoon for your face alone, which is more than it sounds. If you don’t spackle it on, the amount of protection is reduced. To stay on the safe side, I opt for SPF30 or 50 rather than SPF15.

Remember to look for protection from both UVA and UVB rays. As it’s so difficult to use enough of a single product, I often layer sunscreen by, for example, wearing a high SPF moisturiser or serum under a foundation, primer or tinted moisturiser which also contains SPF. This trick is proven to help people reach maximum protection. By the way, it’s a myth that the sunscreen in foundation is inherently more ineffective or ‘weaker than sunscreen alone’. All products that make a sun protection claim go through exactly the same testing before they are allowed to carry SPF labelling.

Many people don’t like facial sunscreen because it stings their eyes. Ingredients that can causing stinging include some preservatives and fragrance, but more commonly, chemical UV filters such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, and perhaps the worst offender, avobenzone are to blame. Avoid these and you probably won’t be crying.


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Here are some of my favourite facial SPFs:

L’Oréal Revitalift Clinical SPF 50+ Invisible Fluid. £19.99 for 50ml but often reduced online.

This is my current go-to. It’s hydrating, contains antioxidant vitamins C and E, has no white cast, and feels weightless on my skin. It also works well under makeup.


Obagi Tinted Sun Shield SPF 50. £64 for 85g.

Expensive, yes, but this tinted sunscreen provides light coverage and colour and doesn’t irritate my eyes. Thanks to squalene and glycerin, it’s also hydrating and contains vitamins C and E. I paid for it because I like the radiant finish, which lasts a long time.


Ultrasun Face Anti-Ageing Lotion SPF 30. £22 for 50ml but also often discounted online.

An excellent daily moisturiser/primer, it contains antioxidants and other skincare ingredients. It is oil-free and leaves a soft, matte finish.


Eucerin Anti-Pigment SPF30 Day Cream. £33.99 50ml.

This moisturising cream with hyaluronic acid is designed to help fade dark spots thanks to an ingredient called thiamidol which, in studies, interferes with pigment production and leaves skin looking more even.


Garnier Ambre Solaire SPF 50+ Super UV Invisible Face Serum. £14 for 30ml.

Highly protective, sheer, lightweight, with skincare ingredients and ceramides to protect your skin barrier, this is an inexpensive everyday option that comes highly recommended by users.


(And two more recommendations from the TNMA team)

Altruist SPF 50 Face Fluid. £10.95 for 50ml.

Easily absorbed and non-greasy, this is the first facial sunscreen I’ve found that doesn’t give me spots. It delivers broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB radiation and is fragrance and paraben free.


Caudalie SPF 30 Vinosun Protect Cream. £26 for 50ml.

Alyson’s go-to is lightweight, protects the skin and smells delicious. The ocean-friendly formula doesn’t contain oxybenzone or octinoxate. One to buy when you’re in a French pharmacy (see also: Avène suncare)


Leah Hardy is a health and beauty journalist and new That’s Not My Age contributor.



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