Female runner ties shoes in the sun

Athletes and Skin Cancer

Athletes spend many hours in the mid-day sun, which is a major risk factor for all skin cancers, including the most serious, melanoma.

Whether on the slopes, in the water, on the track, or on the field, outdoor athlete receive more ultraviolet radiation (UV) exposure than the general public for many reasons, including:
  • Intense practice and competition schedules spent outside in the sun
  • Sweating may also contribute to UV-related skin damage because it increases an athlete’s photosensitivity of the skin, leading to the risk of sunburns.
  • Sunscreen comes off when you sweat or get wet in the water. Remember to reapply!
  • UV radiation reflects off most training grounds of athletes, including water, sand, concrete, light-colored surfaces and snow. Even when wearing a hat, UV radiation will reflect off the playing surface and can damage the skin.
  • Winter and alpine athletes receive even more sun exposure not only due to the reflection from snow and ice covered surfaces, but also because harmful rays are less able to be absorbed by the atmosphere due to the higher altitude.
  • Weakening of the skin’s immune system is another factor that may affect athletes. Very intense athletic training, such as preparation for marathons, has been reported to temporarily impair the immune function. This impaired immune function may be associated with an increased risk of some types of skin cancer, including melanoma.

There are more than 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer in more than 2 million people that will be diagnosed in the United States annually.

One person dies from melanoma every hour in the United States. The risk of melanoma can be reduced by protecting the skin from the sun and its harmful ultraviolet rays. Even on a cloudy day, up to 80% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can pass through the clouds.

Athletes need to be protective of their bodies when training outdoors. With a few simple steps, you can be active and protect your skin from the sun:
  1. Seek shade when appropriate. Avoid training and competing when the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow appears to be shorter than you are, seek shade.
  2. Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses, where possible.
  3. Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more to all exposed skin. “Broad-spectrum” provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Reapply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
  4. Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand because they reflect and intensify the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chances of sunburn.
  5. Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look tan, consider using a self-tanning product or spray, but continue to use sunscreen with it.
  6. Know your spots and be aware of your skin and the moles you have. If you see any mole or spot on your skin that is changing, itching, bleeding or growing, see a dermatologist.

It could save your life!