As dedicated runners, we tend to pay far more attention to the inner workings of our body than the outside. We run in the Central Texas summer heat and oppressive sun and assume if our legs, heart and lungs are OK, we must be fine.
Maybe, maybe not. Many of us suffer in silence as our skin takes a beating.
There is simply no doubt about it: If you run through the Texas summer, your skin will feel the effects of one or all of the following: sunburn, chafing, windburn or just plain, post-run itchiness caused by dry skin.
The more you’re outside this summer, the more protection and attention you need to pay to your skin. Fortunately, almost all issues runners have with their skin are more of an annoyance than debilitating, but it’s enough of a problem that dermatologists now have a term for it: “Runner’s skin”. What that means is a loss of skin tone, changes in skin color and the appearance of premature lines and wrinkles.
Of course, the irony is running provides so much in terms of being healthy and aerobically fit, but often our skin looks much older than it should be.
Even worse, is the increase of skin cancers. The American Cancer Society predicts there will be 60,000 new cases of melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – reported this year. That’s almost double the number of cases that were reported in the United States just 15 years ago and part of that growth is attributable to the increase in people who exercise outdoors and do not use sunscreen. In addition, those of us who sweat a lot when running are more susceptible because sweat tends to magnify the sun’s rays on our skin.
If you’re the typical Texan who spends plenty of time running in the summer sun, you are at risk. To reduce that risk of skin cancer, use a sunscreen before running of at least SPF-15, possibly higher. Waterproof products are best. Also wear a hat and sunglasses (you can burn your eyes too) when running in the hot summer sun.
You should also consider a periodic dermatological exam to check for growths or moles or changes in skin color or tone. For some reason, women suffer more lower-body skin problems than me, while most men have upper-body skin issues.
Although skin cancer is the most deadly form of skin problems, the biggest problem most runners have is much less serious: Dry skin. If your skin is dried out repeatedly from running in the sun, it’s not going to hurt you, but eventually it will wrinkle and flake and look leathery. One reason this afflicts runners to such a degree is because the skin cells dry out as we run because of all the evaporation that goes on due to sweating.
Our skin will dry out anyway as we age, but to prevent premature wrinkling from dryness, the skin must maintain a certain moisture. If the skin is moist enough, it will remain flexible and soft. If not, it cracks and becomes brittle like an old baseball glove left in the sun.
The only good thing about running in Central Texas during the summer – at least, as it relates to our skin – is the high humidity. As we all know too well, our summer humidity makes running very difficult, but low humidity, is tougher on your skin because it dries out the skin even more.
Another way to dry out the skin, is by taking a blazing hot, post-run shower. All that does is cook the skin and removes the skin’s natural oils from it that keep it moist.
Water can help you keep the skin moist, but you must use a moisturizing cream right after your shower. Then, pat yourself dry with a towel. After that, apply another layer of moisturizer.
Using a high quality moisturizer is the key. Its active ingredients trap the water in the skin, keeping it moist. You don’t necessarily have to buy the most expensive moisturizer, but you do want a product that retains your skin oil without clogging the pores. Look for an ingredient called noncomedogenic. This is usually found in mid-priced moisturizers such as Neutrogena. If you’re a guy, ask your wife or girlfriend. She’ll know.
Apply the moisturizer all over your skin, especially on your legs. Any area exposed to the skin should be moistened after running.
As a Central Texan runner, we are constantly exposed to the damaging effects of the sun all spring and summer. That’s a given and prolonged exposure to the sun carries with it a high risk of burning. It’s even worse if you have fair skin and blue eyes.
You are most likely to get burned during the late spring and summer while running between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is when the harmful ultraviolet light is at its peak. Clearly, early-morning running before the sun has risen (or after it has set) is the best time to avoid the harmful effects of the sun.
By now, everyone should be aware of the absolute necessity to use sunscreen to protect the skin from sunburn. The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests that 30 minutes before going outside, apply one ounce (two tablespoons) of sunscreen SPF 15 or higher to your entire body. If your skin is normally quite dry, you may even need to apply more.
The downside to sunscreen from a runner’s perspective is it does inhibit sweating on hot, dry days (if we ever have any). It doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on the sweating process on warm, humid days. Best advice is to use a sunscreen on a consistent basis so the screen penetrates the skin for maximum protection.
As any marathoner knows, chafing is a major drag. Especially in the summer when we are drenched with salty sweat on long, hard runs. Regardless of where you chafe, it can slow you down and if it gets bad enough, can even force you to stop your run.
Chafing occurs when skin rubs against skin (such as between the upper thighs or under the arms) or when skin (such as the nipples) rubs against clothing. When that happens, the skin becomes highly irritated and can crack and bleed. The heftier you are, the more susceptible you are to chafing. Major problem areas for men are under the armpits or in the lower groin; for women, it’s where the sports bra meets skin. Both men and women suffer equally when it comes to chafing of the nipples.
What to do?
Experiment with different clothing (shorts, shirts and bras) and find the combination which works best for you. Sometimes new clothing causes the worst chafing; washing seems to soften the fabrics and minimize the problem. That’s why it’s important to wear the clothes you intend to race in on several long runs to take the “newness” out.
Fortunately, there are several products that help. Body Glide is a terrific lubricant. When applied in a high chafe area, it works extremely well to negate the friction. So does petroleum jelly but it gets a little messy. If you are susceptible to nipple pain, there is a commercial product called Nip Guard which works well to protect the nipples. Some runners simply use Band Aids over the nipples during long runs or marathons for protection.
But for some runners – usually heavier – not even Body Glide seems to work against chafing of the thighs. If that’s you, you may need to wear longer shorts such as mid tights made out of Lycra or some other synthetic to prevent the chafing of your “thunder thighs”.
The Skin Cancer Foundation Recommends:
- Seek the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Avoid running at noon during the summer.
- Apply suncreen with a SBF of 15 or higher every day.
- Apply one ounce of sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside to exercise.
- Wear a hat, protective clothing and sunglasses.
- Examine your skin every month for growths or moles.
- Avoid UV tanning salons