What do World Professional Surfers including Mick Fanning and Damien Hobgood, soccer superstars Christie Rampone and Lindsay Tarpley, snowboarder Shayne Pospisil, record-setting angler Preston Clark, and PGA Tour golfer Brian Davis have in common? They’re not just renowned athletes, but people committed to protecting themselves from skin cancer, the world’s most common cancer. And they’ve joined Team SCF, a group of dedicated sports professionals, to talk about their sun protection habits.
Playing the sport you love in the fresh air, for up to twelve hours a day, seven days a week — what’s not to love? While these athletes are devoted to their work, they often face one very unappealing job hazard: the high risk of skin cancer.
People who spend a lot of time out- doors are particularly vulnerable to the cumulative damage caused by the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Almost 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers (NMSC) like basal and squamous cell carcinoma, the two most common skin cancers, are associated with exposure to UV radiation. Recent research also shows that the vast majority of mutations (gene changes or errors due to radiation, viruses, and other causes) found in melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are caused by UV radiation.
Becoming Pros at Sun Safety
The world’s #1 surfer, Mick Fanning, grew up with good sun protection habits. Today the two-time and current Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Champion still wears a high-SPF sunscreen and a shirt or long-sleeved rash guard (an athletic shirt made of material such as spandex or nylon) when surfing. And while he’s chasing waves seven days a week, the Australian is careful. “I avoid surfing in the middle of the day, when the sun is most intense, and every time I get out of the water, I reapply sunscreen.”
While Australians tend to be well-educated about sun protection (Australia has the highest melanoma rates in the world, and most citizens are familiar with one or more skin cancer awareness campaigns), many Europeans are not so lucky. UK native Brian Davis has already been treated for two basal cell carcinomas (BCC) and a squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), even though he’s only in his thirties. The first European to win the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, in 2004, the golfer “never heard anything about skin cancer in the UK. We just didn’t wear sun protection.” But when Davis and his family settled in Florida five years ago, they began hearing a lot more about the damage the sun can do. So when his wife noticed a discolored spot on his neck, Davis went to a dermatologist, who confirmed that the spot was a basal cell carcinoma. He’s since been treated for another BCC and an SCC on his nose. Today, Davis is a pro at skin self-exams as well as golf, and he sees his dermatologist every six months, or sooner if he notices changes to an existing spot.
New Jersey resident and two-time Olympic Gold medalist in soccer Christie Rampone has also discovered that you don’t need to live in a sunny climate to sustain sunburn and sun damage. “The worst days aren’t the ones that are that hot and sunny. It’s the overcast days [up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV radiation can penetrate clouds] when you’re not thinking about the sun — then you really get burned.”
The soccer wonder woman (captain of the US Women’s National Team and the 2009 Women’s Professional Soccer’s Hint Water Sportswoman of the Year, among other titles) is especially careful, since both her mother and grandfather have been treated for skin cancer. “I apply sunscreen about an hour before practice, and I get one with as high an SPF as I can find—at least a 35, usually a 50.” She also applies an eye cream with SPF around her eyes; she’s found that this skin is often neglected.
Rampone’s US Women’s National team- mate and fellow Olympic gold medalist Lindsay Tarpley makes sun protection as easy as she can for herself. When the St. Louis Athletica forward isn’t on the field, “I try to stay out of the sun!” But Tarpley, dubbed girls’ soccer ESPN RISE high school player of the decade in 2009, spends a lot of time outdoors training and playing, and consequently has developed a comprehensive protection routine: “Every time I shower or wash my face, I apply a moisturizer with an SPF (usually a 30+). Then, about half an hour before I get on the field, I apply sunscreen.” Tarpley prefers a spray sunscreen for the face, which she puts on her hands and then applies. “I spray a lot on my hands,” she explained. For the body, she uses a lotion-based sunscreen. (The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using one ounce, or two tablespoons, of sunscreen for the entire body, including a nickel-sized dollop on the face, and reapplying every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily.)
Recently, Tarpley’s started wearing hats in addition to the sunglasses she slips on “pretty much every time I go out.” She also regularly performs skin self-exams and sees a dermatologist for an annual full-body skin exam. Her dedication stems, in part, from personal experience with skin cancer. “Two close family members [including Tarpley’s mother, who has had basal cell carcinoma] have been treated for skin cancer in the past few years,” she explained. “This really made it hit home for me. I’m pretty passionate.”
Winter Weather Advisory: Protect Your Skin
Most of the athletes we spoke to compete in hot weather, but sun protection is equally important in the winter. Snowboarder Shayne Pospisil, whose recent wins include the 2009 Oakley Arctic Challenge and Red Bull Snowscrapers, is well aware of the risks the snow poses. “The sun’s reflection off the snow increases exposure,” he pointed out. Thanks to the glare, up to 80 percent of UV rays hit the skin twice. And for every 1,000 feet of elevation, UV exposure increases 8-10 percent. “I’m up on Mount Hood in Oregon a lot,” Pospisil said. “That’s over eleven thousand feet above sea level.” In addition to the cold- and wet-weather
gear that covers his torso and limbs, “I wear a mask that protects my whole face,” Pospisil explained. He’s rarely without a cap that covers his scalp and ears, and wears sunscreen on all exposed areas. He’s particularly careful to apply a white zinc oxide product to the lips. When the face mask is not in use, Pospisil wears oversized snow goggles or sunglasses.
The Accessory Advantage
Bass fishing may sound like a recipe for relaxation, but it’s a demanding sport. “You spend ten to twelve hours a day standing up, with no ‘time outs’ for weather,” explained angler Preston Clark, best known for his record-breaking 11 pound, 10 ounce catch in the 2006 Bassmaster Classic. “It takes a toll on your body.”
The Florida-based Clark knows what he’s talking about. When he was in his mid-thirties, Clark’s long-unprotected skin began showing signs of sun damage. “My ears were always peeling, bleeding, and cracking,” he said. “They’d never heal. My nose and lips were in bad shape, too.” But since impulse-buying a French foreign legion hat (a visored hat with flaps that cover the ears and neck) a few years ago, Clark’s never looked back. “Not only do I wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 every time I go out, I also wear UV-blocking sunglasses and shirts, usually long-sleeved, with a high UPF.” (UPF, or Ultraviolet Protection Factor, measures clothing’s ability to screen out UV light; a shirt with a UPF of 30 would let just 1/30th of the sun’s UV radiation penetrate the fabric. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends clothing with a UPF of 30+.) It’s working, and Clark’s ears have healed, too.
The importance of sun-protective clothing and accessories can’t be overemphasized. Damien Hobgood has picked up surfing trophies all over the world, winning tournaments from Brazil to Fiji. He has already had several suspicious lesions removed from his face and back, despite of the fact that he’s always been careful about applying sunscreen. Hobgood usually wears a rash guard, or, in colder waters, a wetsuit (a long-sleeved synthetic rubber suit that provides UV protection from the shoulders and trunk on down). Hobgood’s even donned a hooded wetsuit with a bill, like a baseball cap. This not only protects the vulnerable scalp, but offers a bit of shade to the upper face.
Some athletes, professional and amateur alike, have expressed concern that sun- screens, hats, sunglasses, and protective clothing might not feel comfortable and end up impeding their game. Davis admitted he originally had doubts: “The first time I wore [UV-blocking] sunglasses, I thought, ‘I can’t play with these on!’ But I got used to it — now I compete with them on.” Sunscreen on his hands doesn’t interfere with his grip, either. “I wipe my hands down before every shot, anyway,” he said.
Sunscreen running into the eyes is a perennial concern (and an occasional excuse for not wearing any), but the pros have ways of dealing with this: Fanning and Tarpley are careful to allow enough time for the sunscreen to be absorbed into the skin (at least 30 minutes) before practice, while Tiago Pires, Portugal’s first ASP World Tour surfer, uses a non-greasy, water-resistant stick sunscreen in the eye area. Clark likes sunscreens with a zinc oxide base, which he finds tend not to run, and Rampone applies Vaseline to her eyebrows, since she’s found that it keeps the sunscreen on her forehead from migrating into her eyes.
Davis said, “Sunscreen is a part of my equipment, my routine, and who I am and what I do. If it allows me to play golf, it’s good.” Fanning summed it up: “There’s always a way to protect yourself. You’ve got to take those extra couple of minutes to get ready.”
The Next Generation
Although kids are notorious for not wanting to wear sunscreen or protective clothing, the professionals are up to the challenge. Christie Rampone’s young daughter “is always in hats. She likes stick sunscreen, since she can put it on herself. Then I get any spots she’s missed, and apply a spray.”
But Davis may have found the most effective method to keep his two boys sun-safe. “They cannot go outside if they’re not wearing sunscreen, so we don’t have a problem getting it on them!”