Are UV Rays in winter more damaging than in summer?

Winter is not the time to stop wearing sunscreen or sunglasses.  In fact, during winter there may be an increased risk for overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation due to reflected rays from snow and ice. If you enjoy skiing or snowboarding, the combination of higher altitude and UV ray reflection is even greater.

sun in winter

Higher altitude means a higher risk of sun ray damage because UV radiation exposure increases approximately 5% with every 1,000 feet over sea level.

According to, if you are going to be skiing at 10,000 feet, “UV radiation may be 35 to 45 percent more intense than at sea level.  In addition, snow reflects up to 80 percent of the UV light from the sun, meaning that you are often hit by the same rays twice. This only increases the risk for damage.”

Sun protection is just as important during winter as it is in summer.

It might be cold and overcast in winter but this doesn’t mean the UV rays aren’t damaging to your skin and eyes.  Up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays penetrate light clouds, and what gets through can reflect back and forth between the clouds.

Dispersed UV rays reflected off of the snow expose your eyes to twice as much UV light. This is why it is important to wear polarized sunglasses which block UV light reflected by the snow reaching and damaging the eye. Skiers and snowboarders are likely familiar with “snow blindness”, which happens when the sun reflects off the snow causing sunburnt eyes!

UV rays can cause short- and long-term damage to our eyes. UV light from the sun can damage the eye’s surface tissues, the cornea and lens and burn the surface of the eye like sunburn on your skin. To protect your eyes from UV exposure wear good quality polarized sunglasses with 100% UVA/UVB protection.

Long-term UV damage to the eye is serious. Exposure to UV has been linked to the development of cataracts which are the leading cause of blindness in the world.

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