Runners, Use Your Sunscreen!

As runners, we spend a lot of time outside. But do you apply sunscreen before you go out for every run? Even more important, do you put it on as part of your daily routine? Do you put it everywhere you need to?

Only recently have I noticed a trend away from tanning and towards skin protection. I, too, am guilty of not being as diligent as I should be. Sadly, it took a tragedy to really get it through my skin that I’m not invincible.

I became more fastidious about sun protection after my beloved, sarcastic, genius Poppa died after battling melanoma. My grandfather, Sonny, was 73 when he passed away in 2015. Skin cancer. He was smart, inventive and a wizard at anything mechanical or puzzle-related. He made me Lincoln Logs and American Girls doll furniture; he hiked, rode some crazy 10-speed bike he got for a good deal off the internet and was a geocaching legend. He did IronButt motorcycle rides and was recognized by BMW for completing a 1,000 mile ride in one day. Not too long ago, he grew a rat-tail because he thought it would be a neat thing to do.

Skin cancer is, according to the American Cancer Society, by far the most common of all cancers. Each year in the U.S., more than 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people. Annually, there are more new cases of skin cancer than cancers of the breasts, prostate, lungs, and colon — combined.

In 2017, the ACS estimates 87,000 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed — and about 9,730 people are expected to die of melanoma. And while melanoma accounts for less than two percent of skin cancer cases, it causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths.

An Ounce of Prevention

An ounce — about two tablespoons, or the size of a golf ball — is how much sunscreen you should apply before heading outside, to run, to work in the yard, or whatever.

There are two kinds of sunscreen: chemical sunscreens containing oxybenzone, and mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Pregnant women should avoid chemical sunscreens and stick to mineral options. Apply chemical sunscreens 15-30 minutes before going out — the longer it has to soak in before you start sweating, the better it will stay put. Mineral sunscreens are ready as soon as applied, as they reflect UV rays instead of absorbing them like chemical sunscreens.

Experts recommend reapplying every two hours or immediately after sweating or getting wet … but if you’re on a hot and sweaty long run, it’s going to be hard to reapply. Try to limit your exposure in the later part of the run by staying in the shade and wearing clothing with SPF and a hat or a UV Buff. In fact, experts agree that shade and clothing are actually your best preventive measures, anyway.

UV rays are greatest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so try to run before or after then. Many common medications can increase your sensitivity to the sun, as well as age-fighting moisturizers that contain retinol. Check with your doctor or dermatologist about any prescriptions or over-the-counter medications you take. The nonprofit Skin Cancer Foundation has great prevention resources online, too.

Our Favorite Sunscreens

Here is a list of my current sunscreen lineup — with the disclaimer that I’m sensitive to smells and textures, and these all pass my test:

  • Mineral sunscreen recommendations include Babyganics and Cerave Invisible Zinc (SPF 30 is mineral only; SPF 50 is mineral and chemical), and Mango adds that Think Sport “smells bad but stays put.”

You might notice I don’t have anything higher than SPF 50 on my list. SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, SPF 50 blocks 98%, so going any higher than that is really unnecessary.

Sunscreens sometimes come with a best-by date. If not, write the date of purchase on the lid and discard within three or four years … and sooner if you leave it stored in your car. Sunscreen is best stored in a cool, dry location — heat will degrade the active ingredients.

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May is Skin Cancer Awareness month, and I hope you will make taking care of your skin a priority by wearing sunscreen habitually and having regular checks by your primary care doctor or a dermatologist.

Are you diligent about sun protection, or could you stand to be better about it? What are your favorite brands? 

Started running in my early 20s and ended up running my first marathon 15 months later. Managed to break 3 hours in my 12th marathon. Pilates instructor passionate about the importance of your powerhouse in running and the mind/body connection. One husband, zero kids, mama to one Australian Shepherd.

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8 comments

  1. Great reminder! I run around 6 am and tend not to apply sunscreen then. However, I’m starting to realize that the sun is bright enough during the summer that I really should… Re: ThinkSport – they have original, kid, and baby versions and the only difference is the smell. I use the original and absolutely love the stuff.

  2. I always use sunscreen on my face, but am a bit lazy about the rest of my body (at least when I’m going out for a run – I will always sunscreen up for the beach). I rationalize this to myself in that I rarely run during the hottest part of the day and am mostly in the woods w/lots of shade, but yeah. Must do better…

    1. Finding a body lotion with at least a little SPF helped me get in the habit! I won’t lie and say I remember every time. At least this time of year I run mostly in the early morning.

  3. With a fresh scar on my leg, I looked for a good Zinc Oxide sunscreen to protect it for the summer. The only one I found in the drugstore was Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Zinc Oxide 20% SPF 50. It definitely has a white tint, but it isn’t greasy and it doesn’t run with sweat, so it works for my scar. For my face, I use Clinique City Block SPF 25. It’s slight tint evens out my color and is all the make-up I need.

    1. +3 for City Block! Most days I use Clinique’s CC cream which has SPF 30 in it and still a sheer coverage.

  4. Great article! Another great resources is the Environmental Working Group’s annual sunscreen report which rates products based on ingredients, claims etc.

    Mango – have you tried Think Baby? smells delicious and goes on so much better than other physical blocks.