As a runner, you know the amazing benefits getting out on a trail can have for your mental and physical well-being. Stress-reduction, increasing your stamina, and setting a PR are all great benefits. One drawback, however, is sun damage.
What sun does to your skin
The most obvious effect of excessive sun on your skin is the dreaded sunburn. Sunburn is painful and nasty to look at. Severe, blistering sunburns can easily become infected and require medical attention. Even worse, studies have demonstrated that those who have suffered multiple bad sunburns are much more likely to develop all types of skin cancer. Be particularly cautious if you’re taking kids or teens out on your runs with you; sunburns earlier in life are even more predictive of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
Exposure to UVA and UVB radiation is also responsible for the vast majority of signs of premature aging. These can include fine lines and wrinkles, “liver spots”, and even a propensity to bruise easily.
UV radiation is a major creator of free radicals, unstable oxygen molecules which react with other molecules in your body and create a cascading chain reaction of damage. Your body can handle some degree of free radicals, but when an excessive amount are created, damage starts to occur, and cells such as collagen can start to break down. This causes many of the damaging effects we see from sun exposure. Anti-oxidants, such as vitamins C and E, help to mitigate this damage and neutralize free radicals.
Fortunately, it is fairly simple to protect yourself from the sun.
The Three Things You Need to Be Doing:
Time your run for hours when the UV index is lower: early morning or later in the evening. Avoid being out for long between the hours of 10am and 2pm whenever possible.
Cover up legs, arms, back, shoulders, and scalp to protect them from sunburn. A hat or visor that shades your face will also help to prevent skin damage.
Use sunscreen on any uncovered skin areas, especially your face. Aim for an SPF of at least 15 and broad spectrum protection (SPF refers only to UVB protection, but broad spectrum sunscreens will block most UVA as well). UVB rays cause most superficial sunburns, but UVA rays penetrate deeper into your skin to cause major damage, so it’s important to protect against both.
If sweating heavily for long periods of time, it is wise to reapply sunscreen to your face. If doing a longer race where you are running for more than two hours, consider packing sunscreen to keep yourself protected.
DID YOU KNOW: Very high SPF is typically unnecessary. Don’t make the mistake of thinking an SPF30 sunscreen is going to be twice as effective as SPF15; it simply doesn’t work that way. Both sunscreens would be blocking over 94% of the sun’s rays and would last about as long. If you’re burning while wearing SPF50, it doesn’t mean you need a higher SPF. It almost certainly means you need to reapply sunscreen more often.
If you slip up and end up with a sunburn, or you already have sun damage from past exposure, there are a few things you can do.
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR: Some symptoms of sun damage should always be evaluated by your physician or dermatologist, such as:
A blistering sunburn: get it looked at and properly bandaged, and monitor closely for signs of infection (like an accompanying fever, or oozing blisters)
New moles: Any mole that develops after age 20 should be looked at, as it may be a sign of melanoma. Also look for changes to existing moles. Trouble signs can include asymmetry, an irregular or poorly defined border, varied colour, diameter larger than a pencil eraser, or bleeding, itching, and pain.
Rosacea: A diagnosis of rosacea can be confirmed with your doctor. Treating it as severe acne (which it can sometimes resemble) may make things worse. While over-the-counter products can be quite effective on some milder forms of rosacea, prescription remedies may be necessary.
Actinic elastosis: While this is a relatively harmless condition characterized by thickened, deeply wrinkled skin (usually on the back of the neck), it affects deep layers of the skin, and is unlikely to improve without professional treatments.
A sunburn can be excruciatingly painful, so the main focus of treatment is to relieve the pain so that you can get some rest and recuperate.
- A cool bath or shower can help give a little relief. Try adding two cups of baking soda to the bath water to soothe redness and swelling.
- Keeping your body well hydrated can help the healing process. Drink plenty of water, coconut water, and/or sports drinks.
- Soak green teabags in cold water and apply over closed eyes to soothe swelling and pain on burned eyelids.
- Avoid picking at peeling skin. If it doesn’t shed on its own, you can gently exfoliate the area once the burn is completely healed.
- Use a soothing lotion that promotes healing on the affected area. Look for ingredients like aloe, soy, shea butter, and bioflavonoid. Ready Set Run Co’s Rest Day Soy Recovery Crème is perfect for this purpose.
Correcting premature aging caused by sun exposure:
A trained medical aesthetician or dermatologist may be your best bet for serious damage. There are products that can help treat and protect common skin concerns, however. Ready Set Run Co skincare products are made with high concentrations of active ingredients for fast, visible results. Marathoner’s Miracle is our signature restorative serum for repairing and preventing oxidative damage, fighting the signs of aging, and helping restore hydration to dry, damaged skin. This is an excellent skincare product for anyone, but is especially important for anyone who regularly trains for 90 minutes or longer in a session.
Keep Glowing Daily Shield 25 is also very helpful in fighting damage, fine lines, and premature aging, with the added benefit of SPF25 protection. Combine the two for a powerhouse skincare regime.