As the days get longer and the sun stronger, we remember how important it is to adapt our exercise routine to avoid the hottest times of the day. It’s time to think about how much water you’re drinking and what you’re wearing to stay cool in the heat.
Many of us forget to consider the impact of multiple hours of UV exposure. Long-distance runs or bike tours can put you at risk of premature aging and skin cancer just as much as consciously “working on your tan”.
Training for a marathon? While you’re figuring out what to eat and how fast your race pace is, be sure to consider how best to protect your skin. Always pay attention to how much sun you’re getting on long training runs, while cycling, or trail running at high altitudes. Follow these top skin cancer prevention and detection tips and get the facts on common skin cancer misconceptions below.
Types of Skin Cancer
The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. About 80% of all skin cancers are BCC. Symptoms may include a sore that won’t heal, a shiny pink bump, a white or scar-like area. The second most common form of skin cancer is squamous cell carcinomas, which can appear as a sore that won’t heal, a reddish, scaly patch of skin, a single colored mark, and it may itch or feel sore. Melanomas are less common but are more likely to grow and spread to other parts of the body if detected late. These usually appear on the skin, but can also occur on the eyes. The first signs are often a new mole or a change in the appearance of an existing mole. Like BCC and SCC, it could bleed, feel sore, or itch.(1)
Exercising outdoors? 4 Skin Cancer Prevention Tips
1. Apply sport sunscreen generously
And then reapply it. Get in the habit of applying sunscreen every morning before you leave home. Read the label on your sunblock to see what kind of ultra-violet radiation it’s protecting you from. UVA protection will help slow the sun’s effect on aging your skin and potentially skin cancer. UVB is mainly what causes sunburn and is strongly tied to malignant melanomas and basal cell carcinomas. Use at least SPF 30 for adequate protection from UVB rays and choose zinc-based sport sunscreen to avoid damaging marine life.(2)
2. Monthly self-check & annual dermatologist check-up
Know your body. Get naked in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror and take a long, careful look at your skin once a month. If you’ve got a partner or good friend who can support you, have them check out the areas you can’t see. Otherwise, you can use a hand mirror. Make sure to see your dermatologist for your annual check-up and ask about any suspicious moles or irregularities.
3. Cover up
Wear a hat and breathable, long-sleeved shirts or jackets on days when it’s not too hot. If possible, outfit yourself with UPF 50 fabric, which absorbs the harmful UVA and UVB radiation.
4. Check the UV index
The UV index forecasts the strength of UV radiation for a specific place and time. It is measured on a scale from 0 (low) to 11+, which indicates your risk of sunburn. Check out your local UV index forecast and schedule your long runs or rides at times when UV exposure is lower. (3,4)
5 Misconceptions About Sun Protection
There is a lot of misinformation floating around about tanning, sun protection, and skin cancer risk. You don’t have to spend hours lying on the beach to increase your risk of skin damage.
Know the facts about UV exposure and skin cancer prevention to keep yourself safe. We’ve highlighted the five most common misconceptions about the sun:
1. You can’t get a tan when you wear sunscreen.
FALSE: Sunblock merely slows the sunburn process, extending the amount of time you can spend outdoors without serious damage. Even a tan is a sign of UV damage and your skin remembers. Remember to reapply before you burn.
2. One application of sunscreen per day is sufficient.
FALSE: Sunscreens lose effectiveness over time. High levels of physical activity require more frequent reapplication because the sunscreen rubs off or washes off due to sweating. It’s particularly crucial to refresh exposed areas like the forehead, ears, nose, lips, and neck! Sun gels and sprays are preferred by athletes because they are more sweat-resistant and absorb better. Reapply sport sunscreen every 2-3 hours and cover up.
3. You can’t get a sunburn in the shade.
FALSE: 50% of the UV radiation can penetrate an umbrella and 90% comes through light clouds. Be careful in water, snow, and in mountain air, as these surfaces especially reflect the damaging rays of the sun.
4. People of color or with darker skin don’t need sunblock.
FALSE: Skin cancer does not discriminate. Although skin cancer is less prevalent in people with darker skin, it is also often diagnosed too late making it much more dangerous. The 5-year survival rate for people of color is 70%, which is significantly lower than that of those with white skin (92%). This is due to a lack of awareness as well as socioeconomic barriers to health care.(5) Everyone should wear at least SPF 30 to protect their skin from premature aging and skin cancer.
5. All sunscreen is bad for the environment.
FALSE: Some sunscreen contains chemicals that are harmful to marine life. When we swim or shower, the sunscreen washes off our bodies and into the water. These chemicals include Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, nano-Titanium dioxide, nano-Zinc oxide, Octinoxate, Octocrylene.(6) What can you do? Choose zinc-oxide-based sunscreen without these chemicals, avoid the sun during the hottest time of the day, and wear UPF clothing to protect your skin.
Don’t underestimate the damage sun exposure can cause to your skin. Prevent early signs of aging and – most importantly – the development of skin cancer by following the tips above. Educate others about the importance of skin protection, no matter how pale or dark the skin is. Remember: use at least SPF 30 sport sunscreen, cover up with UPF clothing and a hat, and schedule your long runs for mornings or evenings.
About Spot the Dot:
Spot the Dot is a small NGO working with artists and athletes from around the world to raise awareness of melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Spot the Dot was founded by melanoma patient Marije Kruis, who is Dutch but lives in Austria. Follow Spot the Dot on Instagram.