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If you are an outdoor athlete, spring weather may mean that it is time to start taking sun protection more seriously. Even though the temperature may be struggling to reach 50°F (10°C), the sun can still wreak havoc on your skin.

With a few simple strategies, you can enjoy all of the benefits of exercising outdoors without sacrificing your skin, your health, or your athletic prowess.

Skin Cancer: the Basics

Most skin cancers are preventable and the majority are curable, if detected early.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends checking your own skin once a month. They also recommend seeing your doctor once a year for a professional skin exam.

Basically, anyone can get skin cancer, but the main risk factors include having:

  • Fair skin
  • Blonde, or red hair
  • Blue, gray, or green eyes
  • A history of sunburns early in life
  • A history of indoor tanning
  • Many moles and freckles
  • Family or personal history of skin cancer

Anyone can get skin cancer, even those with darker skin. Greater amounts of melanin in the skin provide natural protection. However, family history, ethnicity, and skin cancers that aren't caused by UV exposure can still put darker-skinned people at risk. For example, darker-skinned people are more likely to get a type of skin cancer that affects the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Sun-savvy Solutions

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your skin.

Avoid the sun between 10 am and 4 pm.
The sun's rays are at their worst during these hours. Exercise in the early morning or later in the day—a time when it is also cooler. If lunchtime is the only time you can workout, seek out a shady route, wear a wide-brimmed hat, load up on the sunscreen, and keep it brief.

Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
You need one that blocks UVA and UVB rays, with a SPF of 15 or higher.

Wear a broad-brimmed hat.
Baseball hats leave cancer-prone areas such as ears and the back of the neck exposed. A smarter option is a hat with at least a two- to three-inch brim. If you have thinning hair or are bald, a hat is a must.

Wear long sleeves and long pants when possible.
Look for clothes with tightly woven material. When you apply sunblock, you should still apply it on areas that will be covered by clothing. A typical T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15.

Protect your ears, nose, cheeks, and hands.
Since the majority of skin cancers occur on these areas, consider them top priority.

Don't skip the lips.
Skin cancer can also occur on the lips. Look for a waterproof or water-resistant, lip-specific product with a high SPF. Plan on reapplying often as lips are moist and lip balms have a tendency to come off easily.

Wear sunglasses.
Choose sunglasses with UV protection. This will also protect the delicate skin around the eyes.

Applying Sunscreen and Keeping It On

Apply it early.
Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before any sun exposure so that it has time to chemically react with the skin.

Choose sport formulas.
Sport formulas are usually water-resistant, easy to apply, will not drip into the eyes, and will not interfere with a grip on a tennis racket or a golf club.

Do not be stingy.
It should take about one ounce, or a shot glass-worth, of sunblock to cover your whole body.

Reapply.
If you are walking or doing a low-intensity activity, reapply sunblock at least every two hours. If you are sweating profusely, or are in the water or a windy area, apply it more frequently.

It Is Not Just the Sun

There are a number of other factors that increase the sun's UV radiation, including: .

Snow
Sun reflected on snow can produce as much ultraviolet penetration as the sun on sand, especially at higher altitudes. So snowboarders and skiers need adequate protection, regardless of the temperature.

Wind
Wind can thin sunblock, so make sure to reapply every two hours or so if you are in a windy environment (think beaches, skiing, and sailing).

Clouds and Haze
Cloudy days are no excuse to skip the sunblock. About 80% of the sun's rays still get through.

Latitude
The closer you are to the equator, the more harmful the sun's rays are.

Altitude
UV radiation increases nearly 4% every 1,000 feet above sea level you go.

Reflection
Sand, concrete, water, and snow are highly reflective surfaces that can expose you to more of the sun's rays.

Burn Tactics

If, despite your best intentions, you discover your skin is starting to turn a painful shade of red, follow these recommendations:

Get out of the sun
Get out of the sun to stop more burning.

Take a bath.
Keep the water lukewarm, not hot. This can soothe the skin

Moisturize.
After the bath, gently rub a good moisturizer onto your skin.

Pain reliever.
Consider using a mild over-the-counter pain reliever if you are feeling pain.

Seek medical attention.
For serious blistering, see your doctor right away.

RESOURCES:

American Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.org

Skin Cancer Foundation
http://www.skincancer.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

BC Cancer Agency
http://www.bccancer.bc.ca

Canadian Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.ca

References:

Ask the expert: Can darker-skinned people get skin cancer? Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/ask-the-experts/can-darker-skinned-people-get-skin-cancer. Accessed March 29, 2013.

Essential sun safety information for skiers & snowboarders. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/healthy-lifestyle/outdoor-activities/essential-sun-safety-information-for-skiers-and-snowboarders. Accessed March 29, 2013.

Facts about sunscreen. American Melanoma Foundation website. Available at: http://www.melanomafoundation.org/prevention/facts.htm. Accessed March 29, 2013.

Five ways to treat a sunburn. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sunburn/five-ways-to-treat-a-sunburn. Accessed March 29, 2013.

Frequently asked questions. Prevent Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://preventcancer.org/prevention/preventable-cancers/skin-cancer/faq/. Accessed March 29, 2013.

How long does it take to get a sunburn? Telluride Medical Center website. Available at: http://tellmed.org/patient-information/local-health-concerns-1/how-long-does-it-take-to-get-a-sunburn. Accessed March 29, 2013.

Lip cancer: Not uncommon, often overlooked. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/lip-cancer-not-uncommon. Accessed March 29, 2013.

Prevention guidelines. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention. Accessed March 29, 2013.

Saving face. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/mohs-surgery/mohs-surgery-saving-face. Accessed March 29, 2013.

Skin cancer: prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/prevention.htm. Updated February 15, 2013. Accessed March 29, 2013.

Skin cancer: risk factors. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/risk_factors.htm. Updated March 27, 2013. Accessed March 29, 2013.

Sunscreen. The Karen Clifford Skin Cancer Charity website. Available at: http://www.skcin.org/Sun-Safety/Sun-Screen. Accessed March 29, 2013.

Year-round sun protection. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/year-round-sun-protection.html. Accessed March 29, 2013.



Last reviewed March 2013 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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