30 June 2016

How To: Sun Protection in the Snow

This is my friend Casey. She's a rockstar, and summitted Mt. Baker via the Squak Glacier last weekend in a single day. We spent 13 hours on our feet going from the top to the bottom, with 7-8 of those hours under direct sunlight.

Casey stoked to be on the summit of Mt. Baker!

As you can tell from the photo, Casey is of the pale-skin variety. Prone to burning, Casey put on sunscreen no fewer than 6 times that I personally witnessed, and probably more. Some might call that overkill, but not this fair lady! She knows the secret to staying young and avoiding the dreaded "leather face" is to take care of yourself.

Even though she was highly diligent, she missed a few spots and ended up with second-degree burns in her nose. Yes.... in her nose. It's actually more common than you might think. As you travel over snow,  UV rays from the sun are reflected off of the snow and back onto every available surface, often infiltrating places you didn't think to put sunscreen. This can happen in the sun or under cloud cover, so you still need sunscreen even when it's cloudy. I've seen backcountry travelers with bad sunburns on the roof of their mouths, back of their knee, under their arms, and I have personally experienced my fair share of lip-sunburns.

The dreaded lip sunburn (not to mention the notable racoon eyes) results in big white blisters on your lips in addition to some uncomfortable swelling. Avoid this at all costs.

When you want to get outside and staying out of the sun isn't an option, use these five items to protect your beautiful skin from sun damage:
  • Sunscreen: You want something that goes on and stays on, and doesn't run as you start to sweat. Apply liberally every two-ish hours (or more frequently if you are like Casey), and be sure to get it in those sunburn-prone areas, especially up your nose and on the underside of your arms and chin. The nose can be especially tricky, as it gets snotty in cold weather, so you'll be wiping it a lot thus removing the sunscreen. For sunscreen, I really like this soothe mineral sunscreen or the REVERSE broad spectrum coverage that Casey just got me hooked on (full disclosure: Casey works for Rodan and Fields, which is how I learned of these products, but she's keen to get everyone a discount so shoot her an email if you're interested). 
  • Sunscreen chapstick: This may seem redundant, but you'll need sunscreen for your lips in the form of chapstick. Put this on when you put on sunscreen. You can also use the chapstick on your nose, which does the trick for me to prevent sunburns. I've had a few kinds, but recently discovered this and really like it, and Casey recommends this one.
  • Eye Protection: Eyes can sunburn just like anything else. Snow blindness is a real danger in the backcountry. To protect yourself, buy sunnies that wrap around your face to prevent any sunlight from burning your eyes. A lot of my friends wear Julbo's, and I like Tifosi myself, but the brand doesn't matter as long as you have good face coverage. I also like photochromic lenses, meaning the lenses change tint depending on ambient light, which is a nice feature for extra protection against the late-day sun (and bugs, which like to fly into your eyeballs). Bonus: Do not bring goggles with the intention of climbing in them, they should be used almost exclusively for descent. They do not breathe well, and if you wear them while you're sweating they're sure to fog up.
  • Hat: Hats come in all shapes and sizes, and you should grab one that works for you. Try to get something with some mesh built in, and a brim big enough to cover your face when the sun is directly overhead. You can go classic ballcap or even-more-classic Gramma-gardener hat. The important thing is that you are comfortable wearing and carrying it.
  • Buff: I have a hard time wearing buffs unless I'm in terrible wind because I have this weird face claustrophobia thing, but as David is demonstrating in the photo below, wearing a buff is an extremely effective way to keep the sun out. This will protect your neck and chin from burning, and can be pulled up to cover your lips and nose as well. You can buy these basically anywhere, but something like this might be very appropriate given the upcoming holiday ('Murica). 
Summit crew displaying proper sun protection.

For those of you with four-legged pals, remember they are prone to these same sun dangers, so be sure to pick up a pair of doggles to protect your pooch's eyes! Happy Adventuring!


Casey Price said...

Great tips my friend! You can never be too careful in the sun especially at elevation

Anna Twohig said...

Love it! As a fellow fair skinned ginger I can relate to this important issue in the backcountry and sadly every aspect of my daily life! Something I would add to your list is UPF/SPF clothing! I bought an amazing shirt from REI that really did a nice job for me when I attended SheJumps Alpine Finishing School in the Revelstoke backcountry and spent all week in exposed sunny terrain.
It's the REI Screeline Hoody and it's on sale now! It's great for protecting your hands/neck/face in warmer weather :-) (IDK how to shorten links, sorry!)