by Mia James
With summer swiftly approaching, outdoor sports enthusiasts can once again look forward to time on the links, in the pool, on the track and other places where the sun’s rays will surely enhance their enjoyment. But diligent efforts at ultraviolet (UV) sun protection need to be part of the lineup as well in order to protect amateur athletes against skin damage, according to Suzanne Friedler, MD, of Advanced Dermatology P.C.
The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 65,000 people worldwide die each year from too much sun exposure, mostly from skin cancer. And while melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—often strikes after decades of sun exposure, sports enthusiasts aren’t immune. “People need to be reminded that most sun damage doesn’t happen from sitting on a beach, but from being in the sun while doing daily activities, including outdoor sports,” says Dr. Friedler, who is board-certified in dermatology and has expertise in many areas of medical and cosmetic dermatology.
“General sun precautions apply to all sports, of course, such as avoiding sun exposure between peak sun hours of 10 am and 4 pm; wearing protective clothing, hats, and UV-blocking sunglasses; and using a broad spectrum, sweat-resistant sunscreen,” she adds.
Sport-specific sun dangers and protective tips
But different sports pose specific sun hazards to athletes. Here, Dr. Friedler explains these sport-specific dangers and offers tips to minimize them:
Golf: For golfers, UV radiation can be even more intense due to the sun’s reflection from ponds and sand traps—which can bounce back 80 percent or more of UV rays, hitting golfers’ skin twice, Dr. Friedler notes. “Using a sport sunscreen that doesn’t run, and reapplying it every nine holes, is really important on the links,” she says. “Also, wear a broad-brimmed hat with a 3-inch brim that protects the neck, shoulders and ears. Baseball hats don’t do nearly as good a job at this.”
Tennis: Tennis is a sport often accompanied by sore muscles stemming from perfecting that power serve. So tennis players need to “court” the fact that the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen—commonly used to alleviate muscle pain—leave us extra-sensitive to the sun’s rays.
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“If you take NSAIDs for your aches and pains, make sure you’re extra vigilant about protecting your skin so it doesn’t burn,” Dr. Friedler advises. “Using physical sunscreens such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which block or reflect UV rays rather than chemically absorb them, is probably a better bet. It’s also really important to protect your lips.”
Sailing and swimming: Whether your sport is in or on the water, its reflection of UV rays can wreak havoc on the skin. Sailors are encouraged to reapply liberal amounts of sunscreen throughout their trek and wear hooded sweatshirts and rain gear if possible. Swimmers are urged to use waterproof sunscreen and reapply it at least every 90 minutes, Dr. Friedler says.
“Look for sunscreen brands that boast of extended waterproof coverage, and apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before heading outside,” she says. “Also, using physical sunblocks such as zinc or titanium oxide on the nose, upper ears and cheeks can offer even better protection from reflective rays.”
Running and biking: Runners and bikers often forget that sun protection is necessary even if their route is shaded or it’s cloudy outside. Up to 80 percent of UV radiation can penetrate clouds and fog, Dr. Friedler says. Also, UV-protective clothing for these athletes is ideal, since sunscreens can easily rub off and lose effectiveness from the heavy perspiration inherent to cycling and running.
“Look for clothing with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) label of 30 or higher, which allows just one thirtieth of the sun’s UV radiation to reach your skin,” she recommends. “Tighter weaves are better, and darker colors offer even more protection.”
Even amateur athletes who take their sports seriously focus on taking care of their bodies but often neglect a huge part of that – sun protection, Dr. Friedler notes. Sunburn can also be dehydrating, causing your tissues to lose fluid. “Training plans, proper nutrition and adequate rest are all crucial to strong performance and optimal enjoyment of sports,” Dr. Friedler says. “But dropping the ball on sun protection can actually interfere with your body’s ability to recover, as well as pose particular dangers. Your skin is a massive part of your body that deserves as much thought as your muscles.”