Exposure to the sun is inevitable when playing outdoor sports. But, being smart about your exposure can protect you from the sun’s harmful rays. Primary care sports medicine physician Leah Hillier, MD, has some wise words to share about protecting ourselves during the game.
“Protecting the skin during sports and outdoor activities is critical,” said Dr. Hillier. “Coaches should make sunscreen a regular and non-negotiable ritual for their athletes just like warming up and staying hydrated.”
Dr. Hillier suggests the first line of defense is to limit sun exposure as much as possible. If you must be in the sun, understand the guidelines around sunscreen use and purchase the right product for your activity.
Limit sun exposure
These tips from Dr. Hillier can help you limit sun exposure:
- Stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. when the sun is the strongest
- Seek shade whenever possible or create your own shade with tents and umbrellas
- Wear wide brim hats
- Wear sunglasses
- Wear lightweight SPF clothing that covers as much of your body as possible
“SPF clothing is becoming more popular in sports,” said Dr. Hillier. “Even in uniformed sports, wearing a light layer underneath is usually permitted. If you can’t get SPF clothing, a long sleeve shirt and pants will also reduce your exposure.”
Use sunscreen properly
Sunscreen is also a must to protect your skin. There are many types of sunscreen and they’re not all the same.
“When choosing sunscreen, look for mineral sunscreens that include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide,” explained Dr. Hillier. “These have been deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration.” Mineral sunscreens form a physical barrier to stop sunlight from penetrating the skin. They don’t always look pretty but they are safe and work well.
Here are some additional tips for sunscreen use:
- Avoid sunscreen with PABA and trolamine salicylate.
- Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen to provide protection from both UVA and UVB rays
- Use SPF 15 or higher – an SPF over 50 does not provide extra benefit
- Apply 15 minutes before sun exposure
- Don’t miss a spot! Apply sunscreen to the entire body before putting on clothes to be sure you’re covered.
- Reapply during halftime or between innings
- No sunscreen is waterproof but look for water resistant products. All sunscreens will come off if you sweat, swim or use a towel to wipe your skin.
- Keep sunscreen out of the heat and direct sun. And keep an eye on expiration dates. Sunscreen loses its effectiveness after a few years.
Sunscreen is not just for the hot summer months. The sun can still cause skin damage on overcast and cooler days. It’s a good habit to wear sunscreen all year long.
Sun protection is essential for athletes because exposure is linked to skin cancer. “Sunburns at early ages are risk factors for future skin cancer,” concluded Dr. Hillier. “That’s why it’s so important to protect children and adolescents from sun damage. In addition, people with fairer skin, lighter eyes and a family history of skin cancer should be extra careful.”
Learn more about skin cancer from Banner Health.