Sun Protection Tips for Athletes and Weekend Warriors

Exercising outside makes you feel good, physically and mentally. But extended time outdoors makes you vulnerable to the cumulative damage caused by the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can lead to skin cancer. So if you compete in team sports or just love to walk, run, swim, or play golf or tennis outside, it’s important to make sun protection a daily habit.

And keep in mind that the dangerous days aren’t just the ones that are hot and sunny. Up to 80 percent of UV rays can penetrate clouds. You can really get burned on those overcast days when you’re not thinking about the sun.

The Skin Cancer Foundation offers these sun safety tips for athletes or anyone who has an active, outdoor lifestyle:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM. Schedule training, practices and games for the early morning or late afternoon when possible. If you must work out or play at midday, take extra precautions to protect yourself, including those below, as well as plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
  • Do not burn. The risk of melanoma doubles if you’ve had more than five sunburns over the course of a lifetime.
  • Cover up what you can. Clothing can be your most effective form of sun protection, so make the most of it with tightly woven or knit, dark- or bright-colored fabrics, which offer the best defense. Manufacturers offer special UV-absorbing clothing from swimsuits and rash guards to hats, long-sleeve shirts and pants. Many are designed for athletes or workouts and are often labeled with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating. Look for a UPF of 30 or higher, which means it will allow just 1/30th of the sun's UV radiation to penetrate the fabric. Include a broad-brimmed hat if possible. If a billed cap is the only type that will stay on while you run, for example, don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your ears and back of the neck. And UV-blocking sunglasses will protect your eyes and help you avoid squinting.
  • For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to all exposed areas 30 minutes before going outside. Water-resistant and sensitive-skin formulas for the face may drip and sting less.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating. Sunscreen sticks often come in small sizes you can keep in a pocket to reapply often while you’re active. Be careful to cover exposed spots that are easy to miss, such as your hands, ears, back of your neck and lips. (Look for a lip balm with an SPF of at least 15.)
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) make you extra-sensitive to the sun. If you use such medications for your aches and pains, be vigilant about protecting your skin.

Published on August 5, 2016