Sun Safety for Runners


May is skin cancer awareness month and, as a back of the pack runner who is also a Board Certified Dermatologist I want to share some practical tips to keep you safe in the summer sun and minimize your risk of skin cancer as you head out for your run.

Those miles you log will prepare you for a great race day, but throughout your training you will also increase your exposure to the sun which can, overtime, increase your risk of skin cancer, premature wrinkling, cataract formation and other skin damage. It is possible to train for a race AND minimize your risk of sun damage and skin cancer by adding a few extra minutes to your pre-run routine. Here are a few sun safety tips:

1. Avoid the sun between 10am and 4 pm.

When the suns rays are the strongest. Best to start those long runs early so that you are finished by 10am.

2. Certain medications can make you more sun sensitive. 

Many topical and oral medications including those for acne, high blood pressure and birth control can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Absolutely wear a hat and sunblock to minimize discoloration and potential sunburn.

3. Use broad spectrum sun protection.

With a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater each and every time you train. Try a “sport” sunscreen which tends to be lighter in texture and less occlusive. If you choose an alcohol based spray product which allows you to spray those hard-to-reach areas, make sure to rub the product in after you spray it on to ensure you have full coverage.  Apply to every sun exposed area, remember the rims of your ears, back of your neck, legs and arms. If you have thinning hair or no hair remember to either wear a hat or apply the sunblock to the top of your scalp. Protect your lips by wearing a lip balm with SPF. 

4. Apply your sunscreen 20 minutes BEFORE you hit the trail.

And reapply it every 2-4 hours even on cloudy or hazy days. You can still get a sunburn on those days, so get in the habit of re-applying your sunscreen. Pick up a sample size of sunscreen that you can carry in your running shorts or fanny pack or talk to your training group about having some at water stations to reapply it on those long runs.

5. Keep your clothes on!

Having a shirt on will give you some protection (about an SPF of 8) so although you may be really buff, try not to run topless or in a bra.

6. Wear a hat and sunglasses.

A hat will protect your scalp if you have thinning hair or no hair. Get one made of a tight weave Coolmax fabric which will keep you cooler on hot days. Sunglasses with UV protection will protect your eyes from sun damage and cataract formation.

7. Share your sun block.

Remind your group members to put sun protection on just as you would remind them to hydrate. For you single runners, this is also a great way to work up the nerve to talk to that cutie on the path you have been eyeing!!

Enjoy your training. Run Happy, Run safe! 

About Brooke Jackson, MD FAAD

Dr. Brooke Jackson is a board certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon. A graduate of Wellesley Collage, Georgetown University medical school she completed her Dermatology training at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit before completing two fellowships. In 2013 Dr Jackson relocated to North Carolina.

Dr Jackson has made frequent guest appearances on ABC, NBC, FOX, WGN news regarding dermatologic issues and has been quoted in numerous national print such as Self, O, Runner’s World, Essence, Ebony, Women’s Day, Ladies Home Journal, Parenting, Teen vogue and Fitness magazines

An avid runner and budding triathlete, Dr. Jackson has completed 10 marathons and 8 triathlons and was on the the board of directors of Girls on the Run, and is a frequent speaker for running groups on sun safety and skin cancer awareness.  

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