Every year when the summer rolls around, skincare becomes an important topic of conversation. After months of our skin never seeing the sunlight combined with the powerful rays of the summer, protecting our skin when we’re outside enjoying the hot weather is crucial to our health. This is especially true for runners, who spend more time than most out under the hot sun. We spoke with dermatologist Dr. Kristy Bailey, who gave us her best advice for how runners can enjoy the season safely.
Not surprisingly, her first piece of advice was not to skimp on the sunscreen. Ideally, she says you should be reapplying your sunscreen every two hours or after you’ve been sweating, but admits this is a tall order for runners, especially those who are out for hours at a time.
“Typically we recommend SPF 30 or higher, and something that’s broad-spectrum,” she says, “but because it’s a bit hard when you’re running to keep reapplying sunscreen, I would do as high an SPF as possible.”
She also suggests applying a cream sunscreen first, and then carrying a powder-based sunscreen with you on your run to quickly reapply any time you stop to take a drink of water. For those who prefer running first thing in the morning, she says you only need to apply sunscreen a few minutes before heading out the door, and don’t need to worry about waiting for 20-30 minutes before your run. Two areas she says people often miss (and subsequently she sees a lot of skin cancer) are the tops of the ears and the lips, so she encourages runners not to forget the ears, and to get a chapstick with SPF to protect their lips.
Other ways to protect your skin
Dr. Bailey recommends runners wear a hat and sunglasses when they’re out, and says it’s important to protect your eyes when you’re out because it is possible to get form of melanoma (skin cancer) on your eyes, called ocular melanoma. She adds that a hat not only keeps the sun off your face, but it protects your head from the sun as well (this is important even if you have a fair amount of hair on your head).
There is also sun-protective clothing available now as well, which she says has SPF built right into the fabric, but even simply opting to wear a t-shirt over a tank top is a good idea. This will protect your shoulders, which tend to get a lot of sun exposure when you’re running under the hot sun.
Dr. Bailey says applying a vitamin C serum in the morning before putting on sunscreen can help protect your skin even further from the sun. Before bed, she recommends using retinol, which she says can actually help prevent skin cancer. “It’s like a light chemical peel, so if you have an abnormal cell sitting on your skin, if you’re peeling it off every night before bed with the retinol, it won’t grow into anything,” she explains.
Mild retinol peels can be purchased over-the-counter at any pharmacy, and a dermatologist can give you a professional-strength retinol peel. You can get an even stronger product with a prescription from your doctor, but Dr. Bailey says these are typically reserved for people with bad acne. Since retinol can be pretty strong (particularly for those with sensitive skin), she recommends starting out by only using it once or twice per week, then gradually working your way up to using it every night. Applying moisturizer over top of it can also help it be less irritating to the skin.
The bottom line
Everyone needs to protect their skin during the summer, but for runners, it becomes even more important. Stay safe this summer and be sure to apply your sunscreen and wear the proper clothing to keep your running habit a healthy one.