At races, you see triathletes quickly spray on sunscreen — even passing the bottle around because so many competitors forgot to bring their own. During the race, few athletes take the time to reapply sunscreen (the race clock is ticking after all). So why does protecting our skin from the sun often remain nothing more than afterthought, especially when doing so can have such a significant impact on our future health?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2016 Skin Cancer Prevention Progress Report, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. — melanoma causes more deaths than any other type of skin cancer; and unlike other cancers, skin cancer rates continue to rise. These statistics are worsened by the fact that most cases are preventable—the CDC reports that more than a quarter of women and one-third of men do not consistently use sun protection.
For those athletes who fail in safeguarding their skin from damaging ultraviolet rays, Allison Arthur, MD, FAAD, of Sand Lake Dermatology Center in Orlando, Florida provides her sun safety tips:
Sunscreens that contain physical blockers zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are effective as soon as they are applied to the skin. Chemical sunscreens like avobenzone and octinoxate need to be absorbed before they become effective. You should apply these sunscreens 15 minutes before going outside.
The biggest mistake I see with sunscreen is a lack of reapplication. People put on sunscreen in the morning and get a false sense of security, assuming they are protected for the day. Under normal circumstances, you should reapply sunscreen every two hours. For athletes who are swimming or perspiring heavily, more frequent application is needed. Ideally, triathletes should reapply at transition points.
Using Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) 50+ clothing, sleeves, and hats can offer additional protection.
People should be diligent in their application efforts. A common mistake is forgetting to apply sunscreen to areas like the back of the neck, ears, hands and tops of the feet.
For those who participate in triathlon or running groups, you could help make applying sunscreen a habit among fellow athletes:
Ask everyone to purchase a travel-size sunscreen bottle that they can carry with them while they run or cycle.
Start each training session having all group members apply sunscreen.
Take short sunscreen-reapplication breaks every two hours.
If your group has a sag wagon or aid station during long training sessions, have a bottle of sunscreen available for athletes.
DO A SELF-SKIN EXAM
In addition to applying sunscreen, Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California, recommends performing a self-skin exam once a month to look for new or changing moles using this ABCDE method:
If the mole doesn’t look perfectly round or oval, or you can’t draw a line through it to have two mirror images of each other, have it checked out.
If the edges of the mole are not smooth, but appear more jagged or smudged or have irregular “bites” in it or new “feet” or bumps sticking out, have it checked out.
If the color of your mole is changing, if it is darker or a different color than all of your other moles, or if there are new mixes of colors, including light brown, dark brown, black, blue, gray, white, pink or red, it should be checked out.
If the size of your mole is six millimeters or greater, otherwise known as the size of a pencil eraser, consider having it checked out because melanoma may be more likely to develop in larger lesions. However, melanomas can also be tiny, so it is important to show any new mole or changing mole whatever the size, to your dermatologist.
This is probably the most important feature to consider. If any mole that you remember having is changing or “evolving” at all, have it checked out by a dermatologist.
in protecting yourself from the sun is even more important that monitoring your stats, getting in that long run and keeping your gear in tip-top shape. Your skin will be with you a lot longer than your bike or PR.