Summer Skin Care Tips for Runners
Of course, you slather on the sunscreen before a day at the beach or the pool but do you think to do it before heading out on a run? Even a short one? If you don’t, it’s time to rethink your pre-run regimen but it shouldn’t stop with sunscreen. There are a number of things you can do before, during and after a run to protect your skin, not only from the sun’s harmful rays but also from other skin issues that are common among runners and other athletes.
Increased risk for skin cancer?
A 2006 study published in the Archives of Dermatology suggests that there is an increased risk for skin cancer among marathon runners because of their long time training outdoors. The study compared 210 marathon runners with 210 non-runners who were subjected to a skin cancer exam and were queried about their and their families’ skin cancer history. Also noted were any changes in the subjects’ skin lesions, a history of notable sunburns, their sensitivity to the sun as well as their eye color and skin color.
Although the non-runner group reported a higher level of sun sensitivity based on skin tone and eye color, the runner group had a higher incidence of abnormal moles and skin lesions, which are associated with a higher risk of malignant melanoma.
Those runners in the study who had more intense training regimens—running more miles per week—had a greater chance of having skin lesions and moles versus runners who logged fewer miles and those in the non-running group.
Of course, it would make sense that those who went for longer or more frequent runs had greater exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays. Study authors also noted that long-term, high-intensity exercise can suppress the immune system and that those with immunosuppressive conditions are often at greater risk for skin cancer.
Slather (or spray) it on
Other than covering yourself from head to toe, the easiest, most-effective way to protect against sunburn and skin damage is to apply sunscreen all over, even on skin that will be covered by clothing. Most clothing does not filter out the sun’s harmful rays so applying sunscreen to your entire body is important.
In addition, sweating, swimming or toweling off can wash/wipe away sunscreen so it is critical to reapply it every two to four hours if possible or to use a sweatproof/waterproof formulation. Note that sweatproof/waterproof sunscreens still need to be reapplied but may last through a long run better than non-sweatproof/waterproof varieties.
Top it off
In addition to sunscreen on your body, if you have thin hair or no hair, don’t forget sunscreen on your head or scalp. An even better option is a hat with a bill to shield your head and face or if you aren’t a fan of hats in the heat, a visor will at least keep the sun off your face. Sunglasses also shield your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays.
More sun sense
Consider the timing of your runs and try to avoid the hours when the sun’s rays are the strongest, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you must fit in a run during those hours, try to choose a route that is at least partially shaded or opt for a wooded trail run.
Be mindful too that certain medications—particularly some antibiotics—increase sun sensitivity. Sun exposure for those with sun sensitivity can cause sun allergy (also called sun poisoning) which presents as hives or itchy red bumps. Some even develop blisters. It is best to avoid long periods in the sun while on these medications, cover up as much as possible when outside and to be extra-diligent about applying and reapplying sunscreen.
Other summer skin conditions
Although sunburn and sun damage are the two most dangerous issues affecting the skin in the summer, there are a number of other skin issues that can crop up due to sweltering summer heat.
Of course, almost everyone sweats more profusely in the summer, even when they aren’t exercising. This extra sweating can lead to acne breakouts and heat rash—also called prickly heat—which causes small bumps on the skin where sweat has accumulated.
To help prevent acne breakouts and heat rash, opt for a moisture-wicking fabric that will pull the sweat away from your skin. In addition, change out of sweaty clothes and socks as soon as possible after your run and wash sweaty clothes, socks hats, and headbands before you wear them again.
Another condition that may appear to be acne may actually be folliculitis, which is an infection in a hair follicle. Although it might look like a pimple, folliculitis tends to cause itchiness and tenderness at the injection site.
To ward off this skin condition, change out of snug-fitting clothes immediately following a run or workout and shower as soon as possible. Opt for lightweight, loose-fitting clothes when you aren’t exercising. Be wary of hot tubs and whirlpool baths that may not be properly maintained to achieve the appropriate acid and chlorine levels. These can be breeding grounds for the bacteria that cause folliculitis, so much so that the condition is sometimes known as “hot tub folliculitis.”
It seems counterintuitive but sometimes skin can become dry and irritated even in the humid summer weather. The main causes are extra time in the sun, pool/ocean or air-conditioning.
Some ways to combat dry summer skin include showering immediately after a run or a dip in the pool using a mild cleanser. Soap and body washes that have anti-bacterial or deodorizing formulations can dry out the skin. A shower or bathe in warm rather than hot water, which also can cause the skin to become very dry. Use a fragrance-free moisturizer following a bath or shower.
Who needs a skin exam?
As runners, we are often so busy paying attention to other body parts—namely our legs and feet—that we often forget about our bodies’ largest organ. Until a bad sunburn or a rash reminds us that our skin is on the front lines, so to speak, battling the elements.
Although there are no clear-cut guidelines about when and how frequently to have regular skin exams, experts at the American Cancer Society suggest that you know your own skin and are aware of the pattern of moles, freckles, etc. They do note that regular skin exams are critical for those who are at risk for skin cancer.
You are at a higher risk for skin cancer if you have a family history of the disease; have blond or red hair, skin that freckles or easily burns, atypical or more than 50 moles; have used tanning beds; have had previous sunburns, particularly ones that blistered; or have had an organ transplant. Medical professionals recommend annual screenings for people who fall into any of those categories.