With summer upon us, everyone should be thinking about sun protection. In fact, those of us who spend many hours outside during the early day walking, running or hiking those deep wood trails, should already be ahead of the curve.
Still, many people misunderstand both the dangers and the necessary steps to protect their skin from sun damage, which includes skin cancer and acute damage like sunburn and sun poisoning.
There’s no ‘safe’ tan
Probably the biggest misconception people have about sun care is that suntans are healthy. The fact is, a suntan is the body’s response to damage. When the sun’s rays are absorbed by the skin, cells called melanocytes produce melanin, a pigment that gives the skin color. The added melanin offers increased protection for future exposure.
However, it’s important to emphasize that if skin tans, damage has already occurred. Moreover, sunburn is a severe response to excessive sun exposure, which exceeds the skin’s melanin production response.
What’s a little burn?
We hear all the time, “I got a little sunburn, but it’s no big deal.” Unfortunately, while tans and burns are signs of damage, each time we burn we greatly increase our risk for skin cancer — one blistering sunburn doubles your risk for malignant melanoma, the most dangerous and ever-increasing form of skin cancer.
Athletes, everyday people exercising in the hot sun in particular should keep in mind that sunburns and acute sun poisoning can cause headaches, nausea, fever and fatigue. Nevertheless, a ‘healthy tan’ is often popular,
Sunscreen, clothing ?
The human body can be considered a near-perfect black radiator, absorbing 97 percent of radiant energy directed at it, regardless of skin color. So while it may sound implausible, wearing both sunscreen and clothing can actually enhance performance by reducing the amount of radiant energy absorbed by the skin; even small increases in body temperature can adversely affect performance.
Additionally, wearing sunscreen on covered areas during hot and sunny days can be beneficial too, since those great wicking fabrics are also great at letting more sun in.
Sun block or sweat block?
While use of sunscreen can reduce radiant heat absorption, people are concerned that sunscreen will also hamper sweating. However, data from a 2000 research study published in the Journal Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness showed that use of sunscreen doesn’t affect thermoregulation — in fact, it may actually enhance overall body cooling. This data, while preliminary, should convince those who believe sunscreen will compromise their performance to start protecting their skin.
Managing your risk
Take advantage of the early morning or early evening hours when the sun is not as intense as it is during the hours of 10a.m. and 5p.m. Don’t forget to put on your sunscreen even at these times, the sun may not be as intense, but you can still get a burn if not treated.
The bottom line is that we all need to do the best we can to reduce our risk while we go about our daily exercise routines. The most important thing to understand is that sunscreen can actually improve your performance by protecting against burns and keeping you cooler in the heat.