We’ve seen it on the tennis court and the golf course, at marathon starting lines and on hiking and biking trails … “athlete’s face”—the dark tan and deep wrinkles from countless hours of unprotected exercise in the great outdoors.
From prematurely aged skin to blistering sunburns and skin cancer, the sun’s power to harm our skin is well documented, and I see the devastating effects every day in my medical practice. Whether you’re a pro athlete, weekend warrior or spectator in the stands, use this trio of play-safe tips so your skin—and health—don’t have to pay the price later.
Get the Full Story on the Sun
The sun may be brighter, hotter and quicker to produce a painful sunburn from mid-morning to late afternoon, but that’s only half the story. While skin-burning UVB rays are at their peak between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., UVA, or “aging,” rays are present from sun up to sun down and require protection all day long.
To prevent sun damage and the signs of aging, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays every morning. Apply it at least a half-hour before you go outdoors, so it has time to penetrate and completely dry on the surface of your skin. Because sunlight, sweat and water degrade the efficacy of sunscreen ingredients, it’s important to reapply every two hours to maintain the level of protection you need.
When applying, keep in mind that one full ounce (about the size of a shot glass) should be adequate to cover your entire body. You will need an additional teaspoon—roughly equivalent to the size of a quarter—to cover your face.
Wear Clothes That Protect
When it comes to exercise clothes, a sheer T-shirt is not enough to safeguard your body from the sun. In general, the denser the fabric, the better the protection, so a long-sleeved nontransparent shirt will better protect you than a short-sleeved thin cotton top. A typical cotton T-shirt has an SPF of about seven, and when it is wet, this decreases to an SPF of three to four. Put your clothes to the test—hold them up to the sun. If you can see through them, you need a thicker material to protect your skin.
Complement your coverage with sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. While baseball caps and visors are a popular choice, they don’t provide effective coverage. The brim only covers the middle of your face, leaving your jawline, neck and chest exposed. That’s why I say the wider the hat and the tighter the fabric weave, the better.
Clean the Slate
Because UV rays are so damaging to your DNA, nature gave your skin a mechanism for protecting itself from UV radiation: skin pigment, or melanin. Every time unprotected skin is exposed to UVA rays, a signal is sent to your pigment-producing skin cells to produce more melanin. But nature doesn’t care whether that pigment is even or not; it just wants to protect your DNA so your cells continue to replicate normally. Over time, this repeated stimulation causes abnormal clumping of pigment beneath your skin’s surface in the areas that are most frequently exposed. You will often see evidence of this in your late twenties as dull, drab, uneven skin tone. If left untreated, these discolorations appear as liver spots or larger brown patches.
If you are impacted by sun damage, you can clean the slate with the right daily skincare products. For a long-term solution for a radiant complexion, look for a regimen that combines cosmetic and active-OTC ingredients to exfoliate dulling, dead skin, address the appearance of unwanted pigmentation, even and brighten overall skin tone and protect against further UV damage. Also consider adding a micro-exfoliating roller into your daily routine to accelerate the visible benefits of your regimen.
With this trio of tips, it is possible to enjoy outdoor exercise and redefine “athlete’s face” to a complexion that looks and feels it’s healthy, youthful best.