Brits ignore sunburn risk associated with skiing

  • It’s cold but still burns –  over three million winter holidaymakers have suffered from sunburn on the slopes in the last five years
  • Almost three quarters (72%) of winter holidaymakers don’t always wear eye protection in winter resorts
  • Olympic skier Chemmy Alcott urges skiers and other winter holidaymakers to pack their sunscreen and protective eye gear this winter

New research from travel insurance specialist Columbus Direct reveals millions of Brits fail to realise the risk of sun on the slopes and its harmful effects, with an estimated three million holidaymakers getting sunburn in winter resorts in the last five years. A further one in four winter holidaymakers (19%) knows a friend or family member that has been sunburnt on the slopes.

The combination of holidaying at higher altitude and UV rays reflecting off ice and snow puts snowboarders and skiers at an increased risk of sunburn and long term damage such as wrinkling, premature ageing and skin cancer. More than 90 per cent of all skin cancers are associated with sun exposure2.

Younger holidaymakers are more laissez-faire with sun protection than older travellers, with a quarter (24%) of those aged 18-34 having been sunburnt while on the slopes. In contrary, just one in twenty (6%) of those aged over 55 have had the same experience. 

The most common reason for sunburn on winter holiday was because people simply forgot to wear sunscreen (31%), while others (17%) made the common mistake of believing that they wouldn’t burn if it was overcast or cloudy. One in ten (11%) let their sunscreen expire, a common issue as many people do not realise sun block becomes less effective over time.

The most common reasons for sunburn on a winter holiday:

  • I forgot to wear sunscreen 31%
  • It was overcast / cloudy so I didn’t think I would burn 17%
  • My sunscreen wasn’t of a sufficiently high factor 14%
  • My sunscreen washed off having fallen over in the snow 13%
  • My sunscreen had expired 11%
  • I chose not to wear sunscreen because I wanted to tan 7%
  • I chose not to wear sunscreen because I didn’t realise I could be sunburnt in the winter 6%

Source: Columbus Direct 2016

Chemmy Alcott, four-time British Winter Olympian, said: “It is vital to remember that you can burn more easily on the slopes than on the beach, as the snow reflects UV rays and the altitude means there is less protection. Even when the air temperature is cold, the sun can cause significant damage to your skin and as you go higher up the slopes, the risk increases as there is less atmosphere to filter UV rays.

“Anyone hitting the slopes this season should pack their zinc stick, high factor sunscreen and protective eye gear and remember to cover and protect any exposed skin, especially on your face, neck and ears. Falling snow and sweat can wash off sunscreen so it’s important to reapply frequently.”

Due to the UV radiation reflection from the snow, the eyes also require protection against the sun.  However, almost three quarters (72%) of winter breakers don’t always wear eye protection. The most common problems caused by not having protective eyewear are dry eyes (12%) and redness around the eye (9%). The issue is particularly prevalent among younger people, with two fifths (41%) of those aged 18-34 having suffered eye problems as a result of not wearing eye protection at a winter resort, compared to less than a tenth (8%) of those above 55.

In some serious cases, failing to wear protective eyewear can lead to the painful condition snow blindness, a temporary loss of vision due to overexposure to UV rays when the cornea itself becomes sunburnt, with one in seven (14%) younger people (18-34) having suffered from the condition.

Rob Thomas, Head of Brand at Columbus Direct said: “Most holidaymakers would have sunscreen on their packing list for their summer beach holiday, but it doesn’t have to be warm for the sun to be dangerous. Those heading off to the snow this winter should be mindful of packing high factor, water resistant sunscreen and protective eye gear, not just to stop their skin from burning, but also to avoid painful conditions like snow blindness which can be extremely serious. As with any holiday, especially one involving winter sports, travellers should ensure they have comprehensive travel insurance as medical treatment abroad can be extremely expensive.”