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As the summer sun hides away and rough winter winds gear up once again, your skincare routine likely needs to shift to stave off dehydration and irritation. The products that keep your skin fresh in the summertime might not be the perfect fit when seasons change, but there’s one crucial step you might be forgetting that’s just as important in winter as it is in summer: sunscreen.

Why You Need It

“There is no safe season as it relates to UV ray exposure,” says Dr. Anne Chapas, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology. “UV rays occur no matter what weather it is outside, making it essential to wear SPF year-round. Clouds also don’t filter out UV rays, so you’re still getting up to 80 percent of the sun’s harsh effects on a cloudy day.

Blue Ray Sun Cream, Make P:rem, $36

UV rays advance the aging process by breaking down elastin fiber and collagen, which keep skin taut and bouncy, as well as causing hyperpigmentation (aka, sun spots), so sunscreen is the number one preventative treatment you can use to keep your skin looking younger longer. And that’s not to mention the non-cosmetic damage that unblocked UV rays can cause: namely, skin cancer.

Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40, Supergoop!, $32

Although winter—depending on where you live—may not be a particularly sunny time of year, snow can even exacerbate UVB rays (which affect superficial layers of skin and are the key cause of skin cancer) up to 90 perfect. Proper winter wear isn’t the only protection you need if you’re planning on getting into a couple of snowball fights—a good waterproof sunscreen is also a must (after all, snow does melt).

Even if you prefer to spend your winters cozied up indoors, SPF is crucial. “Glass only filters out UVB rays. UVA rays, which account for up to 95 percent of the solar UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface, can still get through windows,” says Dr. Chapas. “This is why many of my patients experience more sun damage on the left side of their face—it’s the driver’s side.”

Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50, SkinCeuticals, $34

Sunscreen application in the winter can even have some unexpected benefits too. It all comes down to picking the right formula that you’ll not only enjoy applying but will help your skin now and in the long run.

Which Ingredients to Look For

Does your winter skin lie somewhere on the scale from dry to irritated? Your sunscreen can take care of that—as long as it has a crucial ingredient. “I typically recommend a physical SPF 30+ with zinc oxide to my clients,” says Rhea Souhleris Grous, medical aesthetics director at La Suite Skincare. “Aside from its primary sun protection purpose, zinc oxide has been proven to help heal skin wounds and soften chapped winter skin.”

UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, EltaMD, $33

The one downside of zinc oxide, however, is that it can leave a white cast on skin, so it’s not the ideal choice for darker skin tones. Luckily, though, it’s not the only sunscreen ingredient with additional benefits.

Dimethicone, a type of silicone, is often used in sunscreen to give it a smoother finish. “Silicones get a bad rap in skincare, but with physician-grade product lines, the dimethicone is higher quality. It makes huge improvements to the texture of many skin products by acting as an emulsifier, preventing other ingredients from separating,” explains Grous. “Dimethicone is also semi-waterproof so it’s fantastic to help sunscreens stay longer and it’s effective at locking in moisture thanks to its larger molecules.”

Eryfotona Actinica Ultralight Emulsion, ISDIN, $50

When you apply a sunscreen that contains dimethicone as the final step in your skincare routine, you can help your moisturizer last longer.

When it comes down to it, finding the right sunscreen can require a bit of trial and error, depending on your skin’s specific needs. Just remember to reapply as the day goes on (as Dr. Chapas points out, most sunscreens last no longer than 80 minutes) using one to two teaspoons of product, and you’ll be set.

UltraCalming Super Sensitive Shield SPF 30, Dermalogica, $53

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