According to the Skin Cancer Foundation there are two million cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the U.S. each year. It is the most common form of cancer and one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. The prevalence of some types of skin cancer has increased by over 800% since 1970. There’s little doubt that the intensity of the sun’s rays has been rising steadily over the last few decades due to the depletion of our ozone layer.
Most athletes spend a great deal of time outdoors in the full sun. Running, tennis, cycling, football, golf, baseball, lacrosse and soccer all involve spending time outdoors. Sun damage to your skin is cumulative which means it builds up over your lifetime on any over exposed areas of skin. People often start becoming more vulnerable to skin cancer later in their lives after years of exposure. All athletes of any age should either wear sunblock or protective clothing when outside. Many athletes have taken to wearing sun sleeves on their arms and legs because they are so easily applied. Sun sleeves don’t wash off or wear off like sunscreen does. Athletic arm and leg sleeves can also reduce the surface temperature of your skin by up to seven degrees and they typically wick away sweat.
Your arms and legs are only part of the equation. Most people actually develop skin cancer on their ears. After covering the face and neck with sunscreen the ears are almost always forgotten. Another sad truth is that men forget to apply sunscreen on their bald spots. This is a particularly sensitive patch of skin that desperately needs protection from the sun. Your sunburned skin doesn’t care about the debate over global warming, it’s very vulnerable and deserves to be cared for properly.
Golf is particularly rough on the skin because sand traps and ponds can actually reflect eighty percent of harmful UV rays back onto your skin. A golfer’s exposure time is an added danger since a round of golf in the sun can take several hours if not an entire afternoon. Hats, sunblock, protective clothing and golf sun sleeves are definitely recommended for golfers. All hats are not created equal as a baseball hat does not protect your neck or ears. A hat with a three inch brim that goes all the way around your head is recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation for golfers. Running, tennis and cycling also fall into the high exposure category because of the reflective nature of concrete and asphalt.
Just as all hats are not created equal; all clothing is not created equal either. Much depends on the weave of the fabric. Most fabrics will naturally absorb some UV rays but the tighter the weave the higher the level of protection they will provide. Synthetic fabrics are often better for UV protection than bleached cotton or natural fibers. This is because nylon usually has less space between clothing fibers than cotton or wool. Another factor to consider is the UPF rating. A shirt with a UPF rating of 50 means it only lets in 1/50th of the sun’s harmful rays. A shirt with a UPF rating of 5 means it lets in 1/5th of the sun’s potentially dangerous UV rays. Not all clothing has UPF labeling and there is a movement to require it. Keep in mind that your average white cotton t-shirt has a UPF of 4 which means it lets in 25% of the sun’s harmful rays.
Your skin is your body’s largest and fastest growing organ. It regulates your temperature and protects you from disease. It deserves your attention and sun protection. Athletes aren’t the only ones that should be protecting their skin. Sunblock, hats and sun sleeves are recommended for gardening, hiking, sailing, fishing and any activity that involves extended sun exposure. Arm sun sleeves for fishing and sailing have become a necessity to avoid over exposure. Enjoy your time outdoors but don’t forget about your skin… it’s been protecting you your entire life… don’t you think it deserves protection too!
About the Author of “Sun Safety Tips for All Outdoor Athletes”:
Trip Albagdadi is a regular guest contributor to the iM Sports Blog. His work has been featured in numerous online as well as traditional print publications.