Sunscreen for Athletes: A Non-Negotiable

People using a sun screen

It is finally beginning to warm up in Chicagoland. It may have taken until mid-June, but we are looking at a forecast of warmer temperatures and sunny skies. As we exhale a communal sigh of relief and welcome the summer to Chicago, it is imperative to keep skin safety at the forefront of our minds.

The American Cancer Society has released its annual statistics report for 2019, indicating that skin cancer is still the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the U.S. Melanoma skin cancer continues to rise; in 2019, new cases of melanoma are expected to increase by about 5.7 percent, from 91,270 news cases in 2018 to a projected estimate of 96,479 new cases in 2019.

This is especially important for triathletes, biathletes, runners, bikers, and swimmers to keep in mind as the majority of our training occurs outdoors. It is often a misconception that running at dawn without adequate sun protection is safe, but any level of sun can cause damage and can lead to a higher risk of skin cancer.

As I was putting together a race day plan with my ccoach last summer, she advised me to avoid using the spray sunscreen that was nestled in my workout bag. Imagine my shock after years of using this popular and convenient type of sun protection.

“A lot of spray sunscreens are chemically based, meaning that the suns react chemically with the sunscreen to create a barrier,” explained Coach Robyn LaLonde,USAT Level-1 Coach, Certified Level II Metabolic Efficiency Training Specialist and Head Coach for Nike+ Run Club. “Because the spray sits on top of your skin, it can change how your body can effectively sweat and regulate temperature. Those same chemicals, when sprayed, also can make their way into our lungs more easily than traditional creams.”

Coach LaLonde recommends using a traditional cream with a high SPF and reapplying every few hours, if you intend to be out for a longer period of time. Not only is this a more effective way to protect your skin, but your body will be able to regulate its temperature through sweat and your lungs being hit with the chemicals found in many spray sunscreens.

The take home message is that athletes need to utilize sunscreen, but need to be selective when choosing a brand and type. Another study conducted by The Journal of Athletic Training reached a similar conclusion advising athletes to avoidsunscreen with titanium dioxide that can impede sweat production and may effect thermoregulation.

The study’s authors measured the effects of a lotion based and non-lotion based sunscreen product on local sweat production among 20 athletes (10 males, 10 females) following 20 minutes of cycling (78 to 80 percent maximum heart rate) in the heat (30o C; 58 percent relative humidity). They compared the results and found that the athletes using the non-lotion based sunscreen exerted a lower amount of sweat than the group using the lotion based sunscreen, revealing that certain sunscreen can alter sweating and evaporation that is necessary for thermoregulation.

The authors noted that changes in local sweat rate could lead to increased risk for heat illnesses.

In a follow up article on the website, My Physical Therapy Article, Jane McDevitt, PhD noted that “Medical professionals should consider advising athletes who are active outside in the heat to limit the use of antiperspirants and sunscreens with the active ingredient titanium dioxide on large skin areas. Additionally, medical professions should continue to educate athletes on proper hydration, acclimation, and implementing sunscreen use during outside physical activity.”

So Chicago athletes, let’s be smart about our skin care this summer and ensure that we are protecting ourselves from skin cancer through proper sun protection for athletes.

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Mandi began running in middle school and never stopped. As a high school and college cheerleader, running was the exact athletic counterpart to keep her fitness levels high. While attending The John Marshall Law School in 2007, Mandi ran her first Chicago Marathon, the final year it was partnered with title sponsor, LaSalle Bank. Mandi has continued to run several marathons and half marathons each year. An Illinois licensed attorney, Mandi is currently the Executive Director of the Lake County Municipal League, a council of government representing 42 municipalities in Lake County. An avid weekend race warrior, Mandi tries to run 2-3 races each month from Milwaukee to Chicago and loves the opportunity to report about her experiences in Chicago Athlete


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