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We have all heard about the damaging effects that the sun can have on our skin, which is why it’s important to think about sun protection before you head outside.
Outdoor sports can mean you’re more exposed to the sun. So to help you learn a little more about what you can do protect yourself while you’re enjoying your favorite sports we’ve put together this guide with some helpful advice and information.
What Are UV Rays, And Why Are They Potentially Dangerous?
UV rays are ultraviolet rays of light that are most commonly associated with the sun.
The sun gives off both UVA and UVB rays that can be damaging to our skin. UVB rays are usually what can cause sunburn and UVA rays are usually what can cause premature skin ageing and long term damage.
Both UVA and UVB rays can cause cancer. Exposure to UV rays can build up over time, meaning that the more days you spend in the sun the more damage can occur to your skin or eyes.
Both UVA and UVB rays can damage your skin cells and more significantly, your skin’s DNA, which can lead to some skin cancers if there is a mutation in the DNA coding when the cells are trying to repair themselves.
In weather forecasting you will often see a UV index to tell you how strong the UV rays will be that day. Usually you will see this on television forecasts during the summer months, but if you live in a warm climate, such as in Florida, the UV index will often be given in forecasts all year round.
Weather apps on your phone or tablet can also provide you with the UV index, but many may only tell you what the current UV level is rather than the predicted peak level.
The UV index ranges from 0 to 11+ with 11 or more being extremely high and 0 being, well, zero. The level of sun protection you will need will often depend on the UV index and the type of skin you have.
UV Protection Table
|UV Index Nos
|Moderate to High
|Protection needed late morning and early afternoon. Wear at least SPF 15 sunscreen.
|Very High to Extreme
|Extra protection needed. Seek shade late morning and early afternoon. Wear at least SPF 15 sunscreen at other times.
Fair skinned people will burn at a faster rate than dark skinned people.
This also means that the lighter your skin is, the more at risk you are from UV light damaging your skin, and a faster rate, because light skin cannot protect itself from UV rays as well as dark skin.
Learn more here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK321117/
However, this does not mean that if you have dark skin that you are protected against UV damage. It just means that UV damage can take longer to occur, so you should still wear sun protection when you are outside to prevent harmful UV rays from damaging your skin and eyes.
Is It All Bad? Are There Benefits To Sun Exposure?
We probably all know that vitamin D is what we need to absorb calcium and keep our bones strong. When you’re in the sun your body makes vitamin D naturally. But there can be a fine line between getting vitamin D from the sun and causing your skin to be overexposed to the sun’s UV rays.
Many health organizations will advise against using sun exposure for increasing vitamin D levels. However, depending on your geographic location and, more importantly, your proximity to the equator, exposure to sunlight can be beneficial in creating vitamin D, providing you don’t allow yourself to get sunburn.
The closer you are to the Arctic circle the weaker the UV rays will be and the less chance you will have of generating vitamin D from the sun, particularly in winter, in which case it can be found in certain foods and in supplements.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Research has shown that being out in the sunlight can help to combat the effects of seasonal affective disorder – the condition associated with long, dark winters where there are very few hours of daylight.
During long winters, outdoor activities can be limited, which can also affect your mood. But when the sun comes out, it can encourage people to get outdoors and take part in activities and exercise which can promote both physical and mental health.
Exposure to sunlight has been found to play an important role in our ability to sleep at night.
By getting outside in the early morning sun it can reset your biological clock to better align with the time of day. This means you might have an easier time of waking up on time and getting to sleep at a reasonable time at night.
Having little exposure to morning sunlight can affect how long it takes you to fall asleep. And if you struggle to fall asleep at night it can then affect how easy it is to wake up when your alarm goes off in the morning.
This is because sunlight creates a natural rhythm for your body clock and if you stray from those hours it can affect your sleep and your mood.
Jet lag is an example of your sleep pattern being out of sync with your biological clock and exposure to sunlight can help you overcome your jet lag and reset your internal clock to the new time zone.
How To Protect Yourself From The Sun
1. Wear Sunscreen
Wearing sunscreen is one of the most important things you can do to protect your skin from the sun while you’re out and about.
It should be applied liberally to all areas of your skin that are going to be exposed to the sun.
You should choose a sunscreen that has a high SPF (Sun Protection Factor) rating and is rated as having broad spectrum protection. The SPF rating is the level of protection that the sunscreen offers against UVB rays. A broad spectrum rating also protects you against UVA rays.
A high SPF rating can give you a higher level of protection against sunburn as it is able to filter out more UVB rays than sunscreens with a lower SPF. It’s recommended that you should wear sunscreen with a rating of at least SPF 30. An adult will require an ounce of sunscreen to make sure the coverage is sufficient.
An SPF 30 sunscreen is designed to block up to 97% of UVB rays with the percentage of blocked UVB rays only increasing to 98% for a rating of SPF 50. A product with SPF 100 will still not protect you completely, blocking about 99% of UVB rays.
Video: How To Apply Sunscreen – The RIGHT way
The SPF rating is how much longer, under test conditions, you can stay in the sunlight without burning compared to wearing no sunscreen at all. So if you have an SPF of 30, technically you should be able to stay in the sun 30 times longer without burning than you would if you were not wearing sunscreen.
However, these ratings don’t really reflect real life, so they shouldn’t be taken at face value, as it doesn’t take into consideration other factors, such as swimming or sweating.
You should reapply it every two hours in order to maintain the sun protection factor strength, and similarly after swimming. It is also recommended that you apply it around 30 minutes before you head outside, as this can be how long it takes for the ingredients in the sunscreen to start working and for the sun protection factor to take effect.
All exposed skin should be covered in order to maximize the sun protection level of your sunscreen. Remember to apply it to your face, your neck and your ears. And if you’ll be wearing open shoes, don’t forget to apply it to your feet. Your lips will also need sun protection and there are various lips balms with high SPF ratings that are designed for this.
2. Wear A Hat
A hat is another essential piece of sun protection and should be worn at all times when you’re out in the sun.
A hat with a wide brim can give you added protection for your whole head, including your face and neck.
Baseball caps with neck flaps can also be suitable.
However, you should still apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF rating to your face, neck and ears, even if you plan to wear a hat outside. A straw hat might seem cooler in hot weather but, while this can be better than no hat at all, a straw hat can still allow UV rays through the open weave of its design.
It can be better to opt for a more tightly woven fabric, as this can offer more protection from the sunlight.
3. Wear Sunglasses
Many people often forget about protecting their eyes when they’re outside.
But UV light can cause damage to your eyes as well as your skin.
A good pair of sunglasses should be on your list of essentials when it comes to being outside.
If you plan to be taking part in sports, you might find a pair of wrap-around style sunglasses might be more suitable and comfortable. These types of sunglasses are usually designed for sports so they’re engineered to stay on your face and protect your eyes whether you’re running, cycling or boating.
Wrap-around sunglasses can also provide you with additional eye protection because they prevent more light from entering your eyes.
If you plan to be taking part in watersports, snowsports or even if you’re at the beach, polarized sunglasses can be a better option than regular sunglasses. The polarization process means that glare is reduced, so there won’t be a blinding reflection from the sun as it bounces off of water or a reflective surface, like snow.
Polarized sunglasses can help you see more clearly when you’re on water and they can be helpful if you’re fishing because they can help you to see below the surface of the water.
No matter what type of sunglasses you choose, they should state whether they provide UV protection. Not all sunglasses offer UV protection, which is why it can be important for your eye health to choose a well-made pair.
You’ll probably find that most luxury brands will offer complete UV protection but you don’t need to opt for the most expensive designer sunglasses to get the best protection. Sunglasses should have a rating of UV 400 or higher. UV 400 means that the lenses on the sunglasses prevent 99.9% of both UVA and UVB light from entering.
4. Wear Sun Protective Clothing
Covering up with clothing can be a good solution to prevent sunburn and skin damage. Long sleeved shirts and and long pants can help to protect your skin from sun damage. If it’s hot, loose fitting clothing can often be more comfortable than tight fitting garments.
You’ll find that some items of clothing, particularly sports and outdoor clothing, have a UPF rating. UPF means Ultraviolet Protection Factor and this is used to rate fabric rather than SPF which is used to rate a skin product. UPF fabric limits the amount of both UVA and UVB rays that can pass through it.
The higher the UPF rating on a garment the less UV light is able to pass through it. The numbers represent the amount of light that can reach your skin through the fabric, for example, a UPF 30 item will let 1/30th of the sun’s UV rays through to your skin.
UPF rated clothing won’t block the sunlight completely but it can give you significantly more protection than loosely woven fabrics and can be effective when used in conjunction with sunscreens.
5. Drink Water
When you’re out in the hot sun, you can quickly become dehydrated, especially if you’re being active.
Making sure that you drink water frequently can be vital in preventing dehydration.
It’s important to always check that you have plenty of water with you, and enough to last you for the length of time that you’re out.
Dehydration combined with hot, sunny weather can lead to medical emergencies, such as heatstroke. Sweating will also increase your chances of dehydration so you may need to increase your intake of water to make up for what you lose through sweat.
Generally, as you probably know, it’s recommended that you drink around eight glasses of water each day. However, this is just a general recommendation and doesn’t take into account your level of activity or if you’re out in the sun all day, where you are likely to need more than this.
It can also be useful to carry a water spray bottle with you if it’s particularly hot, as this can help to cool you down while you’re on the go.
6. Seek Shade
If you plan to spend the whole day outside, it can be a good idea to take shelter from the sun when you can. This can be particularly important if it’s also very hot.
The sun is usually at its strongest between the hours of 11am and 3pm but this may not always be the hottest part of the day, as the late afternoons can often be hotter if the sun has been beating on the ground all day long causing heat to radiate.
However, the UV rays that are emitted from the sun will often be at their peak during these midday hours because the sun is usually at its highest point in the sky, even if the temperature may not have reached its peak for the day.
So there can be a higher chance of sunburn and skin damage during this time, which is why it can be beneficial to take a little time out of the sun to minimize your risk of sun damage. It can also give you a chance to cool off if it’s hot out, have a lunch break and rehydrate.
What If I Get Wet Or Sweat Heavily?
There are many water-resistant sunscreens on the market which can be ideal if you plan to get wet or if it’s hot and you know you’ll be sweating a lot.
However, this does not mean that these sunscreens are waterproof.
Each sunscreen has to state on the bottle how long it is designed to offer protection for during water activities or if you’re sweating.
If you plan on getting wet, you should make sure you apply your sunscreen around 20 minutes before you head into the water so that it has time to be absorbed into your skin. Otherwise it can wash off, meaning you won’t have any protection at all.
You should also reapply it regularly, according to the recommended instructions on your sunscreen bottle. Come out of the water to dry off before you apply more sunscreen and again, wait 20 minutes before going back into the water.
Every time you come out of the water, you should reapply the sunscreen to maximize your sun protection. Your sweat can also cause the sunscreen to lose its protective barrier, so you should reapply it frequently, making sure you dry your skin off first.
When you’re taking part in watersports you should still take the same precautions when it comes to sun protection as everybody else, such as wearing a hat and sunglasses and seeking shade in the middle of the day.
But there are other things you can do in addition to the standard precautions that can be more suitable for watersports.
Just like if you were staying on dry land, choosing clothing that will cover more of your skin can provide better sun protection, especially if you plan to be exposed to the sun for a while or in and out of the water. Rash guards and bathing suits that offer more coverage can be a good choice.
It can also be useful to look for bathing suits and rash guards with a high UPF rating so that this can give you added protection against the sun’s rays.
Keep in mind, though, that fabric will become less protective when it’s wet, so you might also want to combine the UPF clothing with sunscreen. And remember to also apply sunscreen to the rest of your body where your skin will be exposed to the sun.
When it’s hot outside, sweating is inevitable, especially if you’re also involved in sports.
While you may take all the regular precautions to protect yourself from the sun, such as wearing sunscreen and covering up, sweating might add an extra layer to your sun protection regime.
It can be a good idea to bring along a change of clothes with you, as we know that wet clothes don’t offer as much sun protection as dry ones and they can lose up to 50% of their UPF protection just from being wet. So having a dry shirt to change into can give you a little extra protection.
Frequent sweating will require you to apply sunscreen more often, possibly every hour, depending on how much you sweat.
What About The Kids?
Babies have much more sensitive skin than adults so it’s even more important to protect them from the sun. Ideally, babies should not be in direct sunlight, especially infants under six months, and they should be kept in the shade wherever possible, either under the shade of a stroller or a beach umbrella.
Wide brimmed sun hats are essential for babies and it can be beneficial to keep babies covered, wearing clothes that cover their arms and legs. Clothes with a high UPF rating can be ideal, as can baby sunglasses that can help to protect their developing eyes.
Because infants have sensitive, new skin sunscreen is not recommended for babies under six months, as their skin lacks the protective layer found on adult skin and this can lead to skin reactions. However, if you don’t have shade or long clothing available then sunscreen is probably better than nothing.
Kids And Teens
Kids and teens should be protected in the same way that adults are, with a high SPF sunscreen, wide brimmed hat, sunglasses and protective clothing.
Some kids, and a lot of teens, will often be more difficult to persuade when it comes to sun protection. But it might help to have them help choose their hats or clothing so that there’s more chance of them wanting to cover up.
What If I Get Sunburn?
What Is Sunburn?
Sunburn is what happens to your skin when you are not wearing enough or any sun protection.
It can happen fast, especially if you have very light skin and there’s usually not much warning.
Sunburn damages your skin and the outer layers that are visible are often pink or red and hot to the touch. The outer layers of skin will often flake or peel after several days if you don’t moisturize the area but the long term damage will often remain underneath these outer layers.
Sometimes there can be various factors that can lead to you getting sunburn, for example, simply staying out in the sun for too long without the right protection or being unaware of the sun’s strength on a cloudy day.
Sunburn can be dangerous for your skin and should be avoided, but as we are all aware, mistakes and accidents can and do happen.
Video: What Causes Sunburn
One of the first things you should do if you get sunburn is to get out of the sun as soon as possible. Any extra time in the sun can do further long term damage to your skin, as well as make your sunburn worse.
If it’s not possible to go inside then cover up with clothing until you can reach shade or get inside.
Remember, if you have to go back outside later or the next day, cover up the areas that have had the sunburn, otherwise you could make it worse.
Cool Down Your Skin
Once you’ve got out of the sun, it can be a good idea to cool down your skin, as it can often feel uncomfortably warm. Recommendations to cool down can include taking a cool shower or applying a cold, wet towel to the sunburn.
If you take a cool shower or cool bath, make sure it’s not too long, as this can cause your skin to dry out.
Slap On Some Moisturizer (Aloe Vera)
Well, you may not want to “slap” it on, but apply moisturizer to the affected area, gently while your skin is still damp.
Moisturizers that contain aloe vera or specific after-sun products can be ideal for this.
Aloe vera gel can help to cool your skin down as well as keep it moisturized and it can be found in most places that sell sunscreen products.
Increase Your Water Intake
Sunburn can cause you to become dehydrated so it is important that you drink plenty of water to replenish the fluids you lose through your sunburned skin. Sports drinks can also help, as these can help to replace electrolytes and minerals that you may have lost.
You should make sure you stay hydrated for the next couple of days or however long it takes for your sunburn to heal. This will likely depend on how bad the damage is.
Take Medication If Necessary
Depending on the severity of your sunburn you might find that an anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, could help to reduce the pain and inflammation that has been caused by the sunburn.
You might find it is more helpful to take the medication as soon as possible after getting the sunburn. You can also get anti-inflammatory medication in a gel format, which can be applied to the skin.
A hydrocortisone cream can be helpful in soothing the sunburn if it’s particularly itchy or red. But don’t use anything such as benzocaine, or other “caine” products as this can affect oxygen levels in your blood and can be dangerous.
If It’s Bad, See A Doctor!
If your sunburn doesn’t heal or if it’s particularly sore or uncomfortable, you may want to seek medical advice from a doctor.
It can also be worth asking a pharmacist for advice if you can’t get to a doctor and they may be able to offer an over-the-counter remedy that could help.
Tips To Heal Sunburn
Sunburn can be dangerous and all exposure to UVA and UVB light can lead to long term damage to your skin. So it can be important to take sun protection seriously before you head outdoors.
Just because the sun can be damaging, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy being outside or taking part in your favorite sports. As long as you remember to always cover up, wear sunglasses and apply sunscreen regularly you should be able to protect yourself.