At first thought, it would seem obvious that wind would not affect tanning much at all. The sun still shines directly onto your skin, and the UV rays which are responsible for tanning can’t be blown away in a breeze.
Many people who enjoy surfing, sailing or taking part in outdoor activities find their skin sensitive and red after spending a sunny day in the wind, so does the wind actually affect tanning?
The answer is yes, the wind actually plays quite a large role in the tanning or burning process when out in the sun. Wind reduces the natural sun protection of the skin, which in turn allows for more UV rays from the sun to penetrate and damage the skin.
How Wind Affects Tanning
There are a couple of ways that wind might affect tanning, leaving the skin sunburned and damaged after a day spent outdoors.
Wind acts as a direct irritant to the skin, which causes the upper layer of skin to shed off, leaving the newly exposed skin open to sunlight. This newly exposed skin is sensitive and more vulnerable to damage from UV rays. The two types of UV rays which hit the skin are UVB rays, which cause sunburn, and UVA rays which cause aging and wrinkles, and the darkening of the skin which causes a tan.
Over an extended period of time, the damage done by these UV rays accumulates and lead to DNA mutations which can turn into skin cancer.
The outer layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, which sits at the top of the epidermis, is also involved in tanning in the wind. This layer provides a much-needed protective layer to the skin but still allows essential items to penetrate in, such as air, light, and hydration.
The stratum corneum contains urocanic acid, which is a natural form of sunscreen that absorbs some UV rays. It is equivalent to an SPF 1.5 but reduces DNA damage from exposure to the sun by nearly 33%.
In the wind, these cells can become dry and weak, and may even shed. This causes the skin to lose some of its natural sun protection, which leaves the skin more vulnerable to damage from the sun.
When the sun hits these newly exposed skin cells, the immune system in the outer layer of the skin attempts to recognize and repair the damage but has a harder time doing so.
Wind vs. Sunscreen
Wind can affect the natural sun protection offered by the outer layer of the skin, so it makes sense that it would also affect any sunscreen sprayed or rubbed into the skin as well. This sunscreen will be coated onto the stratum corneum, which will dry and shed if exposed to wind over an extended period of time, taking the sunscreen with it.
Due to this risk, it is so important to practice proper sun safety when in the wind and to continuously reapply sunscreen throughout the day to protect your skin.
How To Protect Your Skin In The Wind
You will need to put in some extra work when out in the sun and wind, applying sunscreen every now and then just won’t do it.
Here are some ways to further protect your skin in the sun and wind:
You will need to limit your exposure to the sun and wind when outdoors. Shelter yourself from the wind when you can. Don’t be fooled by how you feel either, the wind will cool your skin down, so you most likely won’t feel the full effect of the suns warmth, and therefore not be aware of the damage it is causing your skin.
Where possible, cover up as much of your skin as possible. Choose clothing that offers UV protection, and wear items such as long sleeves (we loved this long-sleeved UV shirt on Amazon), long pants, a windbreaker, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat. If out in the snow, don’t forget to wear a ski mask and goggles for extra protection.
If you will be spending time in the water you can use a wetsuit, a rash vest or other swimwear and clothing that has sun protection.
The same risk of sunburn from wind applies to motorcyclists as well, who should invest in a thick leather jacket and a full helmet that has a sun shield.
It is essential to remember to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. Look for a rich, thick cream or oil sunscreen that will not be as easily removed from the skin as a dry spray or light lotion. The extra moisture that these thicker sunscreens offer will decrease the dryness of your skin, and possibly decrease the chance of the outer layer of skin shedding.
The Cooling Factor
There is another reason why people tend to get so sunburned in the wind, and it is because they simply cannot feel the heat or effect the sun is having on their skin. The wind will cool the skin down, which warps the perception of burning and heat, this will lead to many people not seeking out shade or protection because they just do not feel the need to. This will mean that they stay in the suns direct rays for longer, which will lead to eventual severe sunburn and damage.
It is important to remember that even though you might feel cool in the wind, the suns rays are still reaching your skin and burning it.
Can I tan when it is cloudy?
Most sunburn actually happens on a cloudy day, as people are not aware that it is possible to tan under clouds, and therefore do not protect their skin as they would on a sunny day. Clouds do not completely stop UV rays from penetrating down, and the skin will still be affected by the rays. Dark, black clouds do block out more UV rays than normal white, fluffy clouds, but not completely enough to properly protect the skin from damage.
Does temperature affect the chances of tanning?
The temperature has no effect on how a person may tan. You will tan just as much in a cold climate as you will in a warm one. The suns UV rays will still penetrate down towards the skin, and that is really the only thing that matters when tanning. It is even possible to tan in below freezing temperature, so always rather be safe than sorry!
Is fair skin more vulnerable to sun damage?
People with pale or fair skin usually find that they burn much easier than those with a darker skin tone. This is because the presence of melanin helps to block out UV rays which damage the skin, and those with darker skin tone have more melanin in their skin. This leaves those with pale skin more susceptible to skin damage and sunburn.
Can I tan when skiing in the snow?
It might not be the hottest day out when skiing on the slopes, but there is still a very real chance that your skin can be sunburned. Not only can it be burned by the direct UV rays from the sun, but snow reflects the suns rays at a large rate, so these secondary UV rays can cause even more damage to the skin. It is really essential to properly protect your skin when skiing, with the right clothing, equipment, and sunscreen, particularly if it is a windy day as well.
Is windburn a real thing?
Windburn refers to the burning and redness of the skin when outdoors in the cold, windy air. Some believe that windburn is actually sunburn experienced in colder months, but skin that has been windburned tends to be drier and more sensitive than skin burned in the summer months.
Can wind and sun burn the eyes?
Wind and sun can have a damaging effect on the eyes, burning and drying them just as they do the skin. This can cause pain, irritation and obscured vision. Medication such as eye drops may be needed from a doctor, or the eyes will recover on their own if the damage is not too severe. When out in the wind, goggles and sunglasses can drastically reduce the possibility of any damage being done to the eyes, saving much pain and irritation!
Tanning In The Wind
While it is possible to tan in the wind, you will most likely land up with a sunburn and sensitivity than you will a golden, bronze glow. The wind dries and sheds the skin, leaving newly exposed skin open to damage from the suns rays, and because of this, your skin will be more damaged than actually tanned.
If it is windy and sunny out, take extra precaution to protect your skin. Don’t even try to tan when it is windy out, rather save the tanning for a still, breeze-free day when you know your sunscreen won’t be shed and you will be able to feel the heat and affect the sun is having on your skin.