Winter is here. Accompanying the cold, the rain, and the snow are a whole bunch of old wives tales that range from slightly inaccurate to downright dangerous. We generally believe these pieces of advice because they were passed down to us by parents, grandparents, and friends. But the truth is, most of these myths come from a misunderstanding of science, or a time when people just didn’t know any better. Here are 10 of the biggest winter health myths — debunked.
1. You don’t need to apply sunscreen
Wrong. Oh, so very wrong. When people feel the drop in temperature (which can be dramatic in some states), they think that the cold weather eliminates the need for UV protection. This is just untrue. “The sun’s harmful rays are just as strong and damaging despite what your thermometer says — particularly the UVA rays which are responsible for aging skin,” said Bruce E. Katz, the director of JUVA Skin and Laser Center in New York.
Now, with the winter months, you may be actively covering up a lot of your skin anyway with thick clothing, gloves, and scarves, but your face will still be exposed to harmful UV rays, and all it takes is one bad sunburn to increase your risk of getting skin cancer. And if you plan on going skiing, remember that the snow reflects up to 80 percent of the sun’s rays right back at you, so use a good sunscreen and sunglasses.
2. Flu shots actually give you the flu
No, they don’t. That’s like saying a tetanus shot will give you tetanus, or a polio vaccine will give you polio. When you are injected with the flu vaccine, your body is introduced to an inactivated form of the flu virus. For all intents and purposes, it’s dead (or at least in a deep coma). But your immune system learns to recognize the enemy virus, and produces antibodies to break it down and destroy it. When an active version of the flu virus enters your system, it recognizes it immediately and gets to work fighting it, destroying the antigens before they can do any harm. (See also: The High Cost of Catching a Cold or the Flu)
3. Cold weather makes you sick
For hundreds of years, parents and grandparents have told their little ones to bundle up and avoid going outside because it’ll increase the chances of catching a cold, or becoming ill. This is pure fiction. The cold weather cannot make you sick in that way, unless you are trapped outside and develop hypothermia. In fact, when you venture out into the cold, the cells that fight infection in your body actually increase. And what’s more, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cold viruses thrive at a temperature of 91 degrees.
So, why do people think the cold weather brings colds and sickness? Well, there could be several reasons. One theory is that during the winter months, you spend way more time indoors, and heating systems make it easier for viruses to enter your dry nasal passages. What’s more, you’re spending way more time locked up inside with other people. If one of them gets sick, the chance of that disease spreading is greater than during the summer months. But the cold weather itself is not going to give you a cold or the flu.
4. You lose most of your body heat through your head
Military researchers in 1950s conducted studies that exposed subjects to frigid temperatures. Their heads were uncovered,…