Sun Protection for Athletes

Surfer on a wave

The last thing anyone wants to think about when they are enjoying their favorite outdoor sport is cancer. However, as enjoyable as feeling the outdoor elements on your skin may be, the sun’s rays pose a threat if we do not protect ourselves properly. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US, but it is also one of the most preventable. Read on to learn more about why skin protection is so vital for anyone who is crushing it outdoors, from weekend warriors to the pros.

UV Risk for Outdoor Athletes

Skin protection outdoors is important for anyone, not just athletes. However, outdoor athletes are at an increased risk when it comes to sun exposure. Many people think that the risk only lies with those who are actively attempting to expose themselves to UV rays to tan their skin. However, data shows that people are more often unintentionally sunburned during outdoor activities.

Often, athletes may forget or neglect to apply sunscreen or wear protective clothing. Of those who do wear sunscreen, many do not apply and reapply properly, which is all the more important when being active outdoors, since sunscreen can rub off more quickly as sweat and dirt accumulate. Add this to the fact that most outdoor sports take place during peak UV exposure hours, often with limited opportunity to seek shade or shelter, and it starts to become clear why sunburn and skin damage can be more of a concern for this population.

Sun Protection and Athletic Performance

Sun exposure is not only risky for your skin health – sunburn can also impact athletic performance. Sunburn doesn’t just hurt – it also affects your ability to thermoregulate, so an athlete can become overheated more quickly. Additionally, even though sweating is meant to help you cool off and regulate, it increases your photosensitivity, or sensitivity to the sun’s rays.

Luckily, sunscreen significantly helps reduce the UV dose it takes for your skin to burn and helps prevent cancer. Sunscreen can even improve microvascular blood flow, which UV exposure impedes, helping you stay cool and performing your best. As an athlete, go for a higher SPF when possible and reapply frequently to counteract the effects of sweat and toweling off.

As an outdoor athlete, you do not have to just accept skin damage. Sunburns are preventable, and there are many effective ways to limit your UV exposure, even if you can’t help (or don’t want to!) being outside during the peak UV hours of the day. For example, you should consider wearing UV-protective clothing, such as rash guards, sun sleeves, sunglasses, and hats. Many of these items are designed with athletes in mind and are sweat-wicking. And of course, always apply sunscreen to exposed skin, preferably a reef-safe mineral formula like Kovr!

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