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Sun Protection for Runners and Ultra Endurance Athletes

[Updated 2/5/15]

Sun exposure – good.

Sunburn – bad.

During our summer months as the rays of the sun become more direct and intense, the possibility of sunburn also increases, especially if we increase the amount of time outdoors.

While sun exposure is beneficial for the body, developing a sunburn is detrimental and just plain hurts. Taking a shower after getting burnt – yowsa!

If you sunburn easily or plan to be in the sun for a significant amount of time where sunburn is a concern, here are four ways to protect the skin, yet still enjoy the outdoors.

1. Safe-r Sunscreen

Aren’t most sunscreen safe and effective? Simply NO.

EWG (Environmental Working Group) is a non-profit group whose goal is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment.

Since 2007 EWG has created a sunscreen guide to help consumers be more aware to what is placed on their skin when to protect from sunburn. The EWG Suncreen Guide will provide a rating for the sunscreen based on the following five factors:

  • Health hazards associated with listed ingredients based on a review of nearly 60 standard industry, academic, government regulatory and toxicity databases
  • UVB protection (using SPF rating as the indicator of effectiveness);
  • UVA protection (using a standard industry absorbance model);
  • Balance of UVA/UVB protection (using the ratio of UVA absorbance to SPF);
  • Sunscreen stability (how quickly an ingredient breaks down in the sun, using an in-house stability database compiled from published findings of industry and peer-reviewed stability studies).

Here is the complete study methodology.

The 2014 EWG Sunscreen Guide provides an overall score rating between 0-10 for a large number of sunscreens on the market with the following association with the rating:

  • 0-2: Low Hazard
  • 3-6: Moderate Hazard
  • 7-10: High Hazard

Below is a listing of the top Beach and Sports Sunscreens from the 2014 EWG Sunscreen Guide.

Also, here is EWG’s top 7 list of what to stay away from with respect to sunscreens.

EWG also has an App (Apple, Android) you can use to quickly check the rating of your current sunscreen or other personal care products.

I am typically not a sunscreen wearer but if burning is a concern, a less toxic product would be a definite consideration.

2. Timing and Location

That mid-day sun is the hottest. If burn is a concern, get that long run or outdoor exposure in during the early or later part of the day.

Running on a mostly or partially shaded trail would also reduce the amount of exposure. This is one of the bonuses of trail running versus the road as trees are often part of the journey.

3. Protective Gear

Various gear/clothing items can provide significant sunburn protection.

For the noggin, we all know about the hat or visor. I am a fan of the visor during the summer months and hat during the cooler months. Of course, the visor won’t do anything to protect the top of the head if that is a concern.

If you want to get all Badwater on us, you can get one of these which includes some neck protection.

A product you may not be aware of are arm sleeves. These snug-fitting arm coverings provide UV protection from your wrist to just below your shoulder. If you don’t feel like you need the extra sun protection, they can be easily be slid down or removed.

There are a large variety of companies making various types of arm sleeves today from trail/ultra rooted, Moeben, to your big name running companies.

Another perk during the cooler months, you can use the sleeves for added skin protection from the elements and turn a short sleeve shirt into a long sleeve.

4. Surprise – The Food You Eat Matters!

The quality and types of food you put in your body is one of the many factors that can impact your endurance sports life and even more importantly your overall health.

Is it really any surprise that what we eat can support our skin health?

Greatist created a useful article listing foods that provides skin support for the sun including Salmon, Red Peppers, Oranges, Dark Chocolate, Cauliflower, Spinach, and Green Tea.

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that a variety of whole food, minimally processed items does the skin and rest of the body good.

For most of us (if not all), the sun is not something to fear but to celebrate. Without it, we wouldn’t be around for very long. With a bit of thought and self-understanding, the summer months can be a joyous sunburn-free time in the outdoors.

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –

[Photos courtesy of Matt McGee.]

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

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