6 Things To Know About Sun Protection

Sunscreen is a good start, but athletes can do more to protect the skin

Alicia Kaye—Triathletes ask a lot not only of their muscles, but also of their skin. While they train and race outside, they are exposed to the powerful rays of the sun that can cause painful burns and even melanoma. To make sure you get the protection you need while you run, swim and bike, consider the following  tips.

1. Reapply every two hours and wear protective clothing
The FDA advises that all sunscreens, regardless of their SPF, be reapplied every two hours. As triathletes, our sunscreen has the even harder job of standing up to sweat, water, wind and toweling off. Keep in mind that the sun's UVA and UVB rays pass through clothing, especially thin technical garments, so sunscreen should also be applied under clothing.  Darker colored clothing protects best, but can also retain heat. Many clothing brands now offer a UPF rating and these garments are a great addition to the use of sunscreen.

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2. Remember that SPF starts to expire the second you apply it (even if you’re inside or it’s dark out).
Put your sunscreen on as close to the beginning of your workout or race as possible. On race day, bring sunscreen with you to the start line.

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3. Store your sunscreen in a cool, dry place
If your sunscreen reaches abnormally warm temperatures, some of the active ingredients can expire faster, rendering the sunscreen ineffective. Ingredients can also separate causing sunscreen to be less effective. It’s also important to remember to check the expiration date on your sunscreen. If it’s past its due date, throw it out!

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4. Apply the sunscreen 10 minutes prior to sun exposure
You’ll get the most out of your sunscreen if you give it the time to absorb into your skin before you jump in the water or start perspiring.

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5. Notice the labeling
You want sunscreen (not block) that is sweat and water-resistant (not proof). Due to new FDA regulations, no SPF product can be called sunblock, even if this product contains an active ingredient such as zinc that can truly block of UVA/ UVB rays. The rules are due to the consumer misconception that sunblock meant the product was truly blocking the sun and consumers did not need to reapply it. By the end of 2013, all SPF products will be labelled as sunscreens. The same sentiment guided the FDA’s decision to only allow products to be labeled as sweat/water resistant.

Finally, the FDA also created standardized testing so you’ll notice that sunscreens will soon be certified as either 40-minute or 80-minute sweat and water resistant. There is no certification higher than 80 minutes due to the requirement that all sunscreen be reapplied every two hours.

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6. Don’t miss the commonly forgotten spots
Don’t forget to apply sunscreen in the less-obvious places like on your ears and the back of your hands and legs, and always use a lip balm with SPF. Lastly, always wear sunglasses when exercising outdoors. You can also develop melanoma on your eyes.

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