Summer Running: Protecting Your Skin From The Sun

As runners, many of us are obsessive-compulsives with regards to our bodies. We think of what we eat, how we train and what we should wear. Yet, inspite of this obsessive-compulsiveness, one body part we often times neglect is our skin.

The coming of the summer months heralds longer daylight hours. However, with longer days comes more sun exposure. And with the thinning of the earth’s ozone layer (screens out much of the sun’s harmful rays), there is a need for us to protect our skin more from the harmful effects of the sun. To learn more about how to take care of my skin, I consulted my dermatologist, Dr. Maria Angela Chua.

Sun’s Harmful Effects

Ultraviolet rays are the fraction of the sun’s rays that damages the skin. There are 3 types, UVA, UVB and UVC. The UVC component is mostly screened out by the earth’s atmosphere. What reaches us and damages our skin are the UVA and UVB components. UVB is responsible for the burning effects of the sun. UVA, which does not cause burning, is more dangerous since it penetrates the skin more affecting even the deeper layers.

Immediate Effects

  1. tanning – the skin’s protective mechanism when exposed to the sun. When one tans, there is an increased production of skin pigments (called melanin) which acts as a barrier against the sun’s rays. Tanning isn’t actually bad, however for those conscious of their skin color, this may very well be the most harmful effect. šŸ˜€
  2. sun burn – something we’ve all probably experienced. When the skin’s protective mechanisms are overcome, the skin gets burned and gets damaged. This results to painful red skin, which becomes itchy, until it eventually peels off. Aside from being uncomfortable, the damaged skin then makes one more prone to the chronic effects of prolonged sun exposure.

Chronic Effects

  1. skin discolorations – one can develop “pekas” – freckles, melasma, liver/sun spots – due to chronic sun exposure. For those who already have these, they become more prominent when exposed to the sun.
  2. premature ageing – repetitive damage makes the skin worn out. Also, prolonged sun exposure makes facial lines/wrinkles more prominent. This is probably one of the reasons why some runners look older than their actual age. They have a weathered look where their skin is thick and leathery.
  3. skin cancer – Research has shown a direct correlation between the development of skin cancer and chronic sun exposure. Some skin cancers are very aggressive, but all are definitely preventable.

What to do

  1. minimize sun exposure – the worst time to run would be when the sun is at its peak, which is between 10am-4pm. Run early in the morning or in the evening. Whenever possible, run under the shade.
  2. wear protective clothing – ideally, they should be dark-colored, tightly woven fabric that covers most of the body ( Though this may be a problem since it would make one feel warmer.) Some clothing in the market right now also have some UV protection.
  3. use a wide brimmed hat – it should be wide enough so your whole face, neck and nape area is provided from shade.
  4. wear sunscreen – these act as an additional barrier against the sun.

What to get

  1. pick a broad spectrum sunscreen – these cover for both UVA and UVB. SPF (skin protection factor) is the measure of how well the sun block protects against UVB. For UVA, no standard measurement has been developed yet. Japan uses pluses while European brands use stars. In picking a sunscreen, get something that is at least SPF 30, and with a lot of pluses (or stars) to ensure the best protection against both types of UV rays. Also, check the labels and get a sunscreen that has any, or a combination of the following active ingredients: Zinc oxide, Titanium dioxide, mexoryl and/or tinosol. If you have sensitive skin, pick one with just titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These are also safe for kids and babies.
  2. sweat-proof – so that the sun block doesn’t get washed off by sweat that readily.
  3. something that you will wear everyday – factors to consider would be how well it applies, how it looks on you, how it smells. Ideally pick the best sunscreen, however, if the best isn’t your liking, then pick something that you like. It is better to have a sunscreen that may not be the best but is ON you, rather than having the best, but is just lying on your dresser unused.

How to apply sunblock

  1. liberally – be as generous as you can be. How generous exactly? That would be 2mg of sunblock for every square centimeter of skin. That would be equal to 1/4 – 1/3 of a teaspoon for the face, and about 1 shot glass for the whole body. This may seem a lot but these are the amounts the sunblock makers use when they do their studies to determine how well their sunblock works. So to be maximally protected, it should be at these amounts also.
  2. apply on all sun-exposed areas – when applying, don’t forget the ears (especially the tips), neck, nape and the back of the hands.
  3. method of application – apply on dry skin 15-30 minutes before sun exposure. Then, after 15 minutes of sun exposure, re-apply! Recent research has shown that this is the best way to do it for maximum protection. Just remember that once the sunscreen gets washed off (after doing water sports or by excessive sweating), a re-application is warranted.
  4. use even when it’s cloudy – cloud cover only decreases UV rays by 20%.
  5. use everyday – we’re exposed to the sun everyday… not just when running or when we go to the beach. So it should be part of our daily skin regimen.

Other measures

  1. hydrate – the skin needs water too! Dry skin is more prone to damage, and being dry also hampers healing.
  2. eat colorful fruits and vegetables – these are high in antioxidants which help the skin-repairing abilities of our body. Examples would be blueberries, pomegranates and grapes.
  3. supplements – we’ve been seeing many ads for various supplements for every body organ (kidneys, heart, joints), and the skin has its own. Heliocare, a health supplement from Spain, contains extracts from a fern (Polypodium leucotomos) and green tea. These are full of antioxidants that preliminary research has shown to aid skin repair after being damaged by the sun.

After sun exposure skin care

  1. apply cool compress on the skin – do this whether your skin got burnt or not. This will help lower your skin’s temperature decreasing the probability of getting burned more. You could use something exotic like aloe vera gels, or it could be as simple as wrapping yourself with water soaked towels.
  2. apply moisturizer after bathing – helps hydrate the skin
  3. hydrate with fluids!

What to do if you get a sun burn

  1. don’t pick of the skin – the skin underneath is still raw and the burnt skin acts as a protective barrier. Also picking off the skin makes that area more prone to infection. Let it slough off on its own.
  2. for pain – you may take paracetamol or NSAIDs.
  3. for the itchiness – apply moisturizer. This will also promote healing as healing is hampered if the area is too dry.

All these measures may seem extreme… but as the Philippine Dermatological Society (PDS) has stated, “It’s the only skin we’ve got!” So I think it’s just prudent that we also do take care of it.

For more information or if you have any suspicious skin lesions, consult your PDS certified dermatologist.

____________________________________________________________ Dr. Maria Angela Chua is a diplomate of the Philippine Dermatological Society. She completed her residency training in dermatology at the UP-Philippine General Hospital. She currently practices in Makati and San Jose, Batangas.

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