Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Health Library Home>Wellness Centers>Sports & Fitness>Article

Play It Safe in the Sun

If you are an outdoor athlete, spring weather may mean that it is time to start taking sun protection more seriously. The sun can cause harm to your skin even when the temperature is low.

With a few simple tips, you can enjoy outdoor workouts without sacrificing your skin or your overall health.

Skin Cancer: the Basics

Most skin cancers can be prevented. Most can also be cured if they are found early.

You should check your own skin once a month and see your doctor once a year for a full skin exam.

The risk of skin cancer is higher in people with:

Anyone can get skin cancer, even people with dark skin. Greater amounts of melanin in the skin offer natural protection. But family history, ethnicity, and skin cancers that are not caused by UV rays can still put people with dark skin at risk. Dark skinned people are also more likely to get a type of skin cancer that affects the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Be Sun Smart

There are steps you can take to protect your skin.

Avoid the sun between 10 am and 2 pm.
The sun's rays are at their worst during these hours. Exercise in the early morning or later in the day—a time when it is also cooler. If peak hours are the only time you can workout, seek out a shady route, load up on the sunscreen, and keep it short.

Use sunscreen.
You need one that blocks UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
Baseball hats expose the ears and the back of the neck. A smarter option is a hat with at least a 2- to 3-inch brim. If you have thinning hair or are bald, a hat is a must.

Wear long sleeves and long pants.
Look for clothes with tightly woven material. When you apply sunblock, you should still put it on places that will be covered by clothing. A typical T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15. There is clothing for exercise that are made to have higher SPF ratings.

Protect your ears, nose, cheeks, and hands.
The majority of skin cancers happen on these areas. Take steps to protect them.

Do not skip the lips.
Skin cancer can happen on the lips. Look for a waterproof or water-resistant, lip-specific product with a high SPF. Plan on using it often as lips are moist and it will wear off easily.

Wear sunglasses.
Choose sunglasses with UV protection. This will also protect the skin around the eyes.

Applying Sunscreen and Keeping It On

Apply it early. Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before any sun exposure. This will give it time to react with the skin.

Choose water-resistant formulas. Sport formulas are usually water-resistant, easy to apply, will not drip into the eyes, and will not make it hard to grip things like a tennis racket or a golf club.

Use plenty. It should take about 1 ounce, or a shot glass-worth, of sunblock to cover your whole body.

Reapply. If you are walking or doing a low-intensity activity, reapply sunblock at least every 2 hours. Put it on more often if you are sweating a lot or are in the water or a windy area.

It Is Not Just the Sun

There are other factors that increase the sun's rays, such as:

The snow can reflect the sun's rays. Snowboarders and skiers should protect exposed areas.

Wind can thin sunblock, so make sure to reapply every 2 hours.

Clouds and Haze
Cloudy days are no excuse to skip the sunblock. About 80% of the sun's rays still get through.

The closer you are to the equator, the more harmful the sun's rays are.

UV radiation increases nearly 4% every 1,000 feet above sea level you go.

Sand, concrete, water, and snow are reflective surfaces that can expose you to more of the sun's rays.

Burn Tactics

If you still get a sunburn, follow these tips:

Get out of the sun
Get out of the sun to stop from burning even more.

Take a bath.
Keep the water cool, not hot. This can soothe the skin

After the bath, gently rub a good moisturizer onto your skin. Do not use petroleum or oil-based moisturizers.

Pain reliever.
You can use an over the counter pain reliever to ease discomfort.

Seek medical care.
For serious blistering, see your doctor right away.


American Academy of Dermatology

American Cancer Society


Canadian Cancer Society

Canadian Dermatology Association


Ask the expert: Can darker-skinned people get skin cancer? Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: Accessed July 5, 2021.

Ask the expert: What will help me feel less nervous about my lip cancer. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: Accessed July 5, 2021.

Basal cell carcinoma of the skin. EBSCO Dynamed website. Available at: Accessed July 5, 2021.

Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. EBSCO Dynamed website. Available at: Accessed July 5, 2021.

Melanoma. EBSCO Dynamed website. Available at: Accessed July 5, 2021.

Sunburn and your skin. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: Accessed July 5, 2021.

Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: Accessed July 5, 2021.

Winter sun safety: What to know about protecting yourself during colder months. Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: Accessed July 5, 2021.

Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board  Last Updated: 7/5/2021