Sunscreen – Use it, Wear it, and Reapply it. Your Skin Will Love You For It

by Benita Zahn

It's the time of the year when our racing calendars are jam packed. To be prepared we attend to our workouts, pay attention to our gear and make sure we’re eating to win. One thing we can’t forget is to put sunscreen and other sun protection on that preparation list. Consider that peak ultraviolet exposure time is 1pm-4pm. That’s when many of us are sweating it out during a distance race or triathlon or the only time we can get out for a training run.

So how are runners doing when it comes to protecting their skin? Turns out there's scant research looking at knowledge and behavior around protection against sun exposure among athletes in general and runners in particular. To get some answers, two researchers from Stanford University and one from Harvard University did some ‘sun smart’ sleuthing. They wanted to determine and describe " sun exposure behaviors and knowledge in a population of runners." Using an online survey they connected with 697 runners to "measure the frequency of seven sun protective behaviors: sunscreen use on the face or body; wearing a hat, sunglasses, or long sleeves; running in shade; and avoidance of midday running." Between 54% and 84% of runners reported that they engaged in these behaviors at least sometimes, but only 7% to 45% reported frequent use of sunscreen. Why aren’t they slathering up? While recognizing the importance of protecting one's skin from the sun's damaging rays, forgetfulness and discomfort were the biggest barriers.  So how to combat this to give your skin the protection it needs? In a word: habit. To that end I reached out to some local runners to learn what they're doing to keep 'skin safe' in the sun.

Former colleague and dedicated runner, Kevin Montano, tells me, he keeps a can of spray - on sunscreen - SPF 70 -in his car or running bag so he's always ready to run in the sun whether joining the Collar City Runners Club or Albany Running Exchange for a workout. He also finds that a hat or visor protects his forehead and sunscreen doesn't drip into his eyes as the workout heats up. And give him props for packing a travel-sized tube of sunscreen in his running pack so when the miles pile up, he can reapply! 

Like Kevin, long time runner Tom Dalton shares that he also uses a spray type sunscreen. It's easy to apply. And yes, from the neck up gets well covered. He also dons a hat and sunglasses to keep the sun off his face and wears sunglasses to guard against glare. That's an important point as sun exposure can cause cataracts.

Dr. Tom Denham, runner and triathlete shares that he uses a high protection product (SPF 30 and higher) on all exposed areas. He notes that it is easy to neglect this step before heading out but recognizes it's essential to long term health. He also wears a hat which he soaks in water to both protect his scalp, something men often forget to do, and because the hat is wet, it keeps him cool.

A quick primer about the numbers. SPF means sun protective factor. It works this way: If your skin reddens/burns in a minute without protection, wearing a product with an SPF of 30 would prevent that burn from starting for 30 minutes. However, there's some wiggle room as the SPF measures the QUANTITY of UV radiation, not exact exposure time. So while Kevin's SPF 70 product offers considerably more protection time from UV radiation compared with an SPF 15, it doesn't mean he or anyone can stay in the sun 4 -5 times as long. Sweating and water when swimming impacts the effectiveness of the product. Keep in mind NO product is 100% water resistant or sweat proof.

Kevin points out that he has a rather dark complexion. Doesn't matter, says the American Academy of Dermatology. It recommends an SPF 30 or higher for everyone on ALL exposed skin (don’t forget the tops of your ears) and reapply it every 2 hours.

If you are anti-sunscreen there are UPF clothing options. While sunscreen is rated via SPF clothing is rated by UPF. And as with sunscreen, the higher the number the greater the protection.

UPF 15 is minimal, UPF 30 is moderate and UPF 50+ is excellent.

In all cases you’re looking for broad spectrum protection. That means protection against UVA, the longer length, more penetrating rays and UVB the rays responsible for a sunburn. Remember to apply the product about 15 minutes before heading out so it has time to bond with your skin and do its job.

For a look at Consumer Reports 2024 report on best sunscreens check out Best Sunscreens of 2024 - Consumer Reports

Wirecutter reviews the best UPF clothing in 2024 The Best Sun Protection Clothing of 2024 | Reviews by Wirecutter (nytimes.com)

Use it, wear it, reapply it. Your skin will love you for it.


BenitaLogo.pngDr. Benita Zahn is a certified Health and Wellness Coach working with clients at Capital Cardiology Associates. Benita spent more than 40 years as a health reporter and news anchor at WNYT in Albany, NY. She covered issues such as wellness, treatment breakthroughs, aging, nutrition, and the latest health care trends. Benita’s work has taken her around the world and across the USA. Benita is a contributor to the weekly “Live Smart” page in the Times Union, the HMRRC Pace Setter and the new magazine 55+LIVING. Benita also created and co-hosts the podcast EVERYTHING THEATER


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