Skiers at high risk for skin cancer, dermatologist says

Skiers at high risk for skin cancer, dermatologist says

As the Australian ski season is well and truly underway, MoleMap dermatologist Dr Niyati Sharma reminds the country’s 1.2 million skiers and snowboarders1 that they are not immune to skin cancer — quite the contrary, in fact.

According to the latest air quality data from Yale and Columbia universities, Australia has the cleanest air in the world compared to 180 countries.2 The downside is that this lack of pollution dramatically increases UV exposure – especially at altitude – with Sharma claiming that UV exposure at a ski area is up to 30% higher than at sea level.3

“What we know from recreational activities at altitude is that there is a decrease in atmospheric protection against UV radiation, which results in much greater UV exposure than at sea level,” Sharma said.

“For every 1000 m increase in altitude, the level of UV radiation will increase by about 10%.4 Australia’s highest ski area is over 2000m and peak exposure levels could be three times higher than at sea level.

“This means that the level of UV exposure while skiing in the winter is equivalent to a round of golf in the summer.”5

Sharma noted that with winter being synonymous with less sunshine, it leads to a level of complacency among regular skiers. But research shows that the surface of the snow acts like a mirror, reflecting up to 80% of the sun’s rays back at us, which intensifies the levels of UV absorbed by the skin.6

“We know that spending time around reflective surfaces like snow and ice means you get up to 200% more exposure to harmful UV than at the beach,”seven Sharma said.

“This can cause permanent damage to areas of the upper torso that aren’t usually exposed to UV, such as the underside of the chin.8

“Research has shown that those who work on ski slopes and spend long periods at altitude have higher rates of actinic keratosis, a precancerous lesion found on sun-damaged skin, than the general population – which tends to to highlight the risk that skiers may face.”9

Sharma said it’s important to mitigate UV exposure by protecting your skin and eyes, including good quality sunscreen with maximum SPF (reapplied every two hours), lip balm SPF , UV protective gear (ideally wrap-around goggles rather than sunglasses). ) and UV protective clothing to cover the neck.

She concluded by noting that the Earth’s elliptical orbit means that southern countries are exposed to more sunlight than their counterparts in the northern hemisphere.

“We know that Australians already see around 13% more UV exposure than countries above the equator at the equivalent latitude – with clean air and our outdoor lifestyles, that’s one of the reasons we have the highest prevalence of skin cancer in the world,”ten she says.

“It is essential that Australians, especially those with common risk factors such as fair skin, red or blond hair or a history of sun damage, get tested regularly to prevent the development of a melanoma.

“This can be done by your GP or a skin cancer monitoring service such as MoleMap.”

  1. Roy Morgan poll. Accessible here.

  2. Wolf, MJ, Emerson, JW, Esty, DC, de Sherbinin, A., Wendling, ZA, et al. (2022). Environmental Performance Index 2022. New Haven, CT: Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. Accessible here.

  3. UV exposure on New Zealand ski fields. Accessible here.

  4. World Health Organization. Accessible here.

  5. UV exposure on New Zealand ski fields. Accessible here.

  6. McKenzie, Richard & Paulin, K. & Madronich, Sasha. (1998). Effects of snow cover on UV irradiance and surface albedo: a case study. Geophysical Research Journal. 103. 28785-28792. do I: 10.1029/98JD02704.

  7. World Health Organization. Accessible here.

  8. Siani, AM, Casale, GR, Diémoz, H., Agnesod, G., Kimlin, MG, Lang, CA and Colosimo, A.: Personal UV exposure in high albedo alpine sites, atmosphere. Chem. Phys.8, 3749–3760,

  9. Gilaberte Y, Casanova JM, García-Malinis AJ, et al. Prevalence of skin cancer among outdoor ski resort workers. J Skin cancer. 2020;2020:8128717. Published on January 28, 2020. doi: 10.1155/2020/8128717

  10. Environmental Health Intelligence NZ. Accessible here.

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