A blog by runners. For runners.

Avoid the burn: get sun savvy and stay safe

Running is a healthy activity. But if you run outside without taking certain precautions — even on chilly and cloudy days — you’re putting your health at risk.

Skin cancer in outdoor athletes

If you run, walk, or bike outside, you have an increased chance for skin cancer, which can be deadly. The more time you spend in the sun, regardless of the season and weather, the greater your risk. Consider the facts:

But all this doesn’t mean you have to log all of your miles inside on the treadmill. Using a good sunscreen and practicing other sun safety tips can greatly reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Choosing a sunscreen

Experts recommend using a sunscreen that offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreens labeled as “broad spectrum” or “multi-spectrum” shield you from both types of rays.

The sun protection factor (SPF) of a sunscreen measures how well the sunscreen deflects UVB rays (there’s no way to measure UVA protection yet). SPF tells how much longer it takes sunscreen-treated skin to burn compared to skin that hasn’t been treated with sunscreen. For example, if you wear sunscreen with SPF 15, it would take your skin 15 times longer to burn than if you went in the sun without sunscreen. Note that dermatologists say that you don’t have to use the highest SPF to get the best protection.

Outdoor athletes should choose a sport sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher — sport varieties are water-resistant and less likely to sting the eyes  and reapply it regularly.

Sun safety tips

These safety measures can also help protect runners from the sun:

  • Always wear sunscreen. Cover yourself with sunscreen year-round, even on cloudy days. Up to 80 percent of UV rays can penetrate clouds and fog, so you always need to protect yourself.
  • Invest in sun protection clothing. Some fitness apparel companies make clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number or on the label. This material absorbs UV rays and stops them from hitting your skin. Wear a hat and sunglasses to further shield yourself, too.
  • Stick to early morning or evening workouts. Avoid the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Midday is when the sun is at its highest and UV rays are at their peak. This is also the hottest time of day, so running in the morning or evening hours will feel more comfortable.
  • Seek shade. Take your run off the beaten path and onto a tree-covered trail. The trees provide shade, cooler temps, and extra protection from the sun.

More to keep your skin safe: rejuvenate your skin from sun damage with papaya and some additional safety items for your long run.

Written by Jenilee Matz, MPH. Jen is writer, runner, and new(ish) mom living in the suburbs of Charlotte, N.C.