Endurance Training and Sun Exposure: What You Need to Know

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. Know your risk factor and how to prevent further damage and sun exposure this summer.

 

 

Endurance athletes can often overlook the heightened risk prolonged sun exposure can have on the skin. Even if you slather on sunscreen before you leave the house or prior to an event, it doesn’t always protect you for as long as you think. Being outside as an endurance athlete is the name of the game. Here's what you need to know in order to protect yourself from the sun's harsh UV rays this summer. Sure, a few wrinkles never hurt anyone, but the real risk of sun exposure is skin cancer, which by definition is the abnormal growth of skin cells. The three major types of skin cancer are:

 

Basil cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It is uncontrolled growths that arise in the skin's basal cells that line the deepest layer of the skin. They typically look like open sores, red patches, shiny bumps or scars. They very rarely spread beyond the tumor site, but should still be treated to prevent the possibility of the cancer spreading to nearby tissues.

 

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. It's the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells arising from the squamous cells in the skin's outmost layer, the epidermis. They commonly look like scaly red patches, open sores, or warts. If left untreated, it can grow and become deadly. The number of non-melanoma cancers has increased by 77% since 1994.

 

Melanoma is the most dangerous kind of skin cancer. It is the result of un-repaired DNA damage to skin cells that causes mutations in the skin cells to multiply and form malignant tumors. They often resemble moles and are primarily black and brown, but can be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. If caught early and treated, melanoma is almost always curable. If left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body and become fatal. Of all skin cancers, it causes the most deaths.

 

It's estimated that the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed in 2019 will increase by 7.7%.

Excessive sun exposure changes the DNA of your skin, and although the effects can take years to develop, the resulting sun damage done to your skin is irreversible. Prevention is your best defense. So, what can you do to protect yourself, especially during long training days and mid-summer races? Here's a few precautions you can take right now.

BENEATH THE SURFACE

UV light photography reveals markings not visible to the naked eye. Taking a picture using near UV light as the flash is equivalent to being exposed to one second of sunlight.

THE RESULT: SUN DAMAGE UNVEILED

Wear sunscreen

Apply sunscreen 20-30 minutes prior to sun exposure and used liberally. Choose a waterproof brand that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Reapplication is just as important, reapply every hour and a half to two hours, especially after excessive sweating or swimming. Lastly, make sure you pick a sunscreen that has at least SPF 15, with SPF 30 or higher an even better choice. Most people don't apply enough sunscreen. Shoot for 1 ounce for your entire body, which is equivalent to about a shot glass worth of lotion.

Risk Factors

 

Fair Skin - Caucasians are at a higher risk for skin cancer than African Americans or Hispanics. Melanin is more prevalent in people with dark skin, which is a natural protectant from UV rays.

Older Age - The risk for basal and squamous cell cancers increases as you age.

Men - According to statistics, men are twice as likely as women to develop basal cell cancer and about 3 times as likely to get squamous cell cancer.

Radiation - Being treated with radiation puts you at a higher risk for skin cancer in the area that underwent treatment.

Genetics - It's been determined that some people are at higher risk for developing skin cancer, which is the result of certain parts of normal cells being more susceptible to damage by sunlight.

Prevention

 

 

Switch It Up - The sun's UV rays are most powerful between 10am - 2pm. Choose to train outside in the early morning, late afternoon, or night time. 

Be Aware - Use extra caution near water, snow or sand, these surfaces reflect sunlight, which can in turn increase your chance of sunburn. Surfers are at an even higher risk for skin cancer, and should exert extreme caution. 

Preform Self-checks - Early detection of skin cancer is paramount. Check your entire body once per month. Any new, unusual, or changing spots should be looked at by a dermatologist immediately. 

Visit a Doctor - Go to a dermatologist at least once per year to get checked out, especially if you're at an increased risk for skin cancer. Plan ahead if you don't already have a dermatologist, they can be booked out for months. 

Cover Up - If you must be in the sun during peak hours, cover as much exposed skin as possible. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and t-shirt or long-sleeve tech shirt. All of these are an extra precaution in preventing sunburn. 

Follow these guidelines to help prevent sunburn on race day!

 

  • Apply all sunscreen prior to arriving at the race without clothes on to ensure you don't miss any areas.

  • Don't forget to apply sunscreen on your ears, tops of hands and exposed feet, these areas can easily be forgotten.

  • Bring sunscreen with you on the course and REAPPLY as needed.

  • Your lips can burn too! Make sure you wear a lip balm with SPF in it.

  • If you're out on a course for more than an hour, set a reminder on your phone or watch to re-apply your sunscreen.

  • Bring a small absorbent towel to dab off excess sweat.

  • Wear your protective sun gear - sunglasses, hat, bandana, visor, shirt etc.

Stages of Sunburn

You wore sunscreen and tried to take the proper precautions, but still got burnt. It happens. Here's the four stages of a sunburn and how to properly treat your burns until they heal.


Stage One: The Burn


You didn't wear enough sunscreen or didn't properly reapply. You are now very red. The bright red color is a result of the blood vessels dilating in the dermis.


Stage Two: Inflammation


After you burn, the skin reacts to the damage by swelling, which is called erythema. The increased blood flow for healing causes the skin to swell and become hot.


Stage Three: Blister


Depending on how badly you were burned, you may develop blisters filled with fluid.

Stage Four: Peel and Heal


Your skin begins to peel off. After a sunburn, the cell regeneration process accelerates. During this process, the keratinocytes (new skin cells) don't have time to separate and flake away as usual, as a result they stick together and peel away from your skin.

Treatment 

  • Take a cool shower, but not for long because it can further dry out your skin.

  • Moisturize while your skin is still damp with lotion or aloe vera gel. Continue to reapply to keep your skin hydrated as needed.

  • Take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory as soon as possible, which will help with swelling and inflammation. Wear soft, breathable clothing and stay out of the sun.

  • Drink plenty of water. Burns can cause dehydration because they draw fluid to the skin's surface and away from the rest of the body.

  • Contact your doctor if you experience severe blistering, a fever, chills, or you are woozy or confused.

Always consult a doctor before starting any new exercise or diet routine and follow all safety protocols for appropriate social distancing.

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