If you've ever had a bad sunburn or blister you know, if you don't take the proper precautions, skin issues can sideline you just as badly as injuries to your muscles, bones, and joints.In addition to the temporary discomfort that goes along with a sunburn, lots of unprotected sun exposure can create serious health problems down the road. A study in the November 2006 issue of Archives of Dermatology found that marathoners had an increased risk of malignant melanomas and nonmelanoma skin cancer.And yet too often, runners just skin the sunscreen, says Brooke Jackson, a Chapel Hill, N.C.-based dermatologist and associate professor at University of North Carolina Dermatology, and 10-time marathoner. "The biggest mistake is not putting any on," says Jackson. "It takes less than a minute. Just do it!"
Here are some tips from Jackson that can help you protect your skin this season.
Or after it's done. Avoid running between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the most potent ultraviolet rays shine.
It's tempting to shed the running shirt when it gets hot. But you'll be safer if you keep your clothes on. Look for running clothes that offer UV protection, or wear darker colors, which block more UV rays than light colors do. "Wearing a tank will provide additional protection," says Jackson.
Look for sunscreens that are labeled "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB" with ratings of SPF 50+.
Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you head out; your skin needs time to absorb it in order to be effective, says Jackson. If you're using a physical sun blocker like titanium and zinc oxide to deflect the sun's rays, there's no need to wait; it works right away.\
For a single application, you should squeeze out enough to fit into a shotglass, says Jackson. And don't forget a lip balm with SPF, especially if you're a guy. Lips are a high-risk area for skin cancer, particularly for men, says Jackson.
You'll need to reapply your sunscreen every two to three hours that you're in the sun, so throw your sunscreen into your car or your fuel belt—especially if you're heading out for a long run, says Jackson. "There's no such thing as sweat proof or waterproof sun protection," she says.
See a dermatologist once a year for a skin cancer screening, especially if you work outdoors, as sun exposure will cumulatively increase your risk of sun cancer. "We cannot undo the damage you've done," says Jackson. "But your dermatologist is likely to be able to pick up a skin cancer or suspicious lesion earlier. The earlier your diagnosis, the better your prognosis."
Because our bodies synthesize vitamin D by absorbing the sunlight's UV rays, some runners worry that by applying sunblock, they'll miss out on Vitamin D,which is critical in helping the body absorb bone-building calcium, and helping to prevent injuries like stress fractures.. But that shouldn't be a worry, says Jackson. "The amount of UV exposure needed (to synthesize Vitamin D) is less than 10 minutes per day," she says. What's more, the amount of natural Vitamin D production made in your body varies with age, skin color, where you live, and the time of year. So if you're worried, take a supplement. "That is a more consistent and less deadly way to assure your vitamin D status," she says.