March 22, 2023

Love Outdoor Workouts and Sports? Don’t Forget Your Sunscreen

Make sure you use a high SPF formula, apply enough and reapply throughout the day

person on beach applying sunscreen

Are you someone who loves to walk or jog in a park or play sports all summer out on a field?


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If you’re out in the sun having a good time, it can be easy to think of sunscreen as an afterthought. But it’s important to be mindful about how you protect your skin, particularly if you love the outdoors.

“If you’re like most people, you’re probably not using sunscreen correctly — or using enough,” says dermatologist Alok Vij, MD.

Dr. Vij shares expert tips for treating your skin right and why what SPF sunscreen you use to exercise outside matters.

Tips for using sunscreen

The importance of sunscreen can’t be overstated. The ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun are the leading cause of skin cancer. Regularly applying sunscreen can protect you and your skin from damage. Here are Dr. Vij’s top tips for using sunscreen.

Use the right amount of sunscreen

Chances are, you’re probably not using enough sunscreen. You want to use about a shot glass full of sunscreen. That’s 1.5 ounces, or enough to cover your whole body. You need a pretty good coating.

Also, don’t overlook the spots that are frequently missed like your ears, eyelids, lips, tops of your feet and scalp.

And regardless of your skin type, make sure you apply sunscreen.

“Fortunately, sunscreen is more readily available for people with all skin types and tones, whether you’re looking for a mineral- or chemical-based sunscreen, there are products for you,” Dr. Vij says.

Look for a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) level

“In general, SPF 30 or above is OK,” says Dr. Vij. “But since most people don’t put it on frequently enough or use enough, you may need a higher SPF.”

Consider that if you use less than one-quarter of what you need — as many people do — and you use SPF 30 sunscreen, you’re only getting one-fourth the full amount, which is 7 or 8 SPF, or essentially nothing.

You also want to look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which means it has UVA and UVB protection. And make sure you check the expiration date on your sunscreen. Most formulas are good for about three years.


Put on sunscreen anytime you go outside

If you’re only outside for 20 minutes, you still need sun protection.

It’s easy to think that if you’re out for short time, sunscreen isn’t necessary. But it’s still exposure, and depending on the time of day, you can get a sunburn in very little time.

Also, 20 minutes can easily turn into 40 — so get into the habit of applying sunscreen whenever you head outside.

Even a little bit of sun exposure can cause skin aging and worsen sun-sensitive issues like melasma.

“A daily facial moisturizer with sunscreen is an essential component of your morning ritual,” Dr. Vij states.

Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going out

You also want to make sure you’re applying your sunscreen before you head outside into the sun’s harmful rays.

By doing so, you’re giving your sunscreen time to soak in. Otherwise, your first sweat washes it away.

Echoing Dr. Vij, including a daily facial moisturizer with sunscreen in your morning regimen is a great way to ensure that your face will be protected from the harmful rays of the sun.

Know when you need to reapply

If you’re out for more than an hour and a half or two hours, reapply.

If you go swimming, you should reapply every time you get out of the water. Reapply more frequently if you’re sweating a lot as well.

Even options that are labeled “all day” formulas should be reapplied throughout the day.


Consider alternatives to lotions, creams and sprays

Sun-protective clothing is a great way to protect your skin. Most athletic brands have some good options. These are listed as UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) as opposed to SPF factors, but the numbers are similar.

For example, a regular white T-shirt gives about 8 UPF protection and most sun-protective clothing is around 50 UPF, so it’s a significant improvement.

To obtain the Skin Cancer Foundation’s seal of recommendation, a piece of clothing needs to have 30 UPF or higher.

Protect your eyes

UV-protection sunglasses are an important way to protect against cataracts. You can get melanoma of the retina, though it’s not very common.

Particularly when you’re on the water, the light is reflecting so you’re getting twice as much exposure. UV light exposure to the eye accelerates age-related vision changes, too.

Overall, applying sunscreen before you head outdoors is key to preventing sunburn and skin cancer.

So, how do you pick the best sunscreen for you? There are many factors to consider from the different formulations like gels, creams, powders and sprays, in addition to waterproof formulas and a variety of SPFs.

But ultimately, Dr. Vij says: “The best sunscreen is the one you actually use.”

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