Sunscreen for Runners: Things You Need to Know
It should be common knowledge by now that sunscreen for runners is an absolute must. Whether you’re going for a quick 15-minute jog in the morning, spending a day at the beach running with your dog, or prepping for your next marathon. Whether it’s perfect 80°F weather or a cloudy 100°F day.
Whatever your skin tone, and whatever the general conditions outside – if you’ll be exposed to the sun’s harmful rays (which can easily escape through the clouds), you need sunscreen. Consider it an essential piece of running gear – good shoes, check; high-quality tops and shorts, check; water bottle, check; sunscreen, check.
However critical wearing sunscreen is, you’ll still need to be careful when choosing one best suited for your needs. Take a look at some of the most important things you’ll need to know when getting sunscreen for runners.
Not All Sunscreens Are Made for the Same Use
Before you get the first sunscreen bottle that you come across, you need to understand that there are different types of sunscreens, and some might be better suited to your needs than others.
While there are moisturizing and hydrating sunscreens, sunscreens for sensitive and problematic skin, sunscreens for acne, the most important distinction you’ll need to pay attention to is between physical and chemical sunscreens.
Physical and chemical sunscreens
Physical, also known as mineral sunscreen, is usually packed with ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients sit on the surface of the skin, creating a physical protective barrier against the harmful UV rays, acting almost as tiny mirrors to deflect UV radiation.
Since they’re not absorbed by the skin, physical sunscreens need to be applied quite liberally to ensure full protection. They’ll usually be thicker in consistency and leave a visible white trail when applied.
Physical sunscreens can lose their potency after being exposed to water or sweat, so you’ll need to reapply them regularly during your run. They offer immediate protection, so you can get out in the sun as soon as you’ve applied some. Most consumers prefer physical sunscreens as they’re gentler on the skin and offer superior protection.
Chemical sunscreens perform differently. They contain ingredients such as benzophenone or salicylate that get absorbed by your skin. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays and converting their energy into heat, which is then released from your skin.
Since chemical sunscreens are quickly absorbed, they won’t get rinsed off quite as easily as physical sunscreens. They’re also somewhat translucent and much lighter in consistency, so they won’t leave visible trails on your skin or clothes.
You’ll need to apply chemical sunscreen about 20 minutes before sun exposure, as they need more time to start providing protection.
You might want to avoid these sunscreens if you have problematic skin, as they can cause irritation and clog your pores.
Most “sport” sunscreens are chemical sunscreens that don’t easily get washed off by sweat and water exposure.
Sunscreens for Runners Are a Necessity
Whether you prefer physical or chemical sunscreens, you still need to apply them often if you’re a runner. Your skin is your largest organ that sustains quite a lot of damage to keep you safe from environmental factors. You need to do all you can to help it do its job.
As a runner, you spend more time in the sun than the average person, so your skin sustains more damage – even if you don’t get sunburned easily, and even if you’re dark-skinned. While some sun exposure is essential for your overall health, too much exposure to UV rays can lead to skin and eye damage, irritation, and even skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and while there’s no certain way to avoid it, you can mitigate the risks of developing this disease by wearing sunscreen.
Avoid going for a run in the mid-afternoon, between 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun is the harshest. Wear sunscreen, protective clothing, and try to find trails with plenty of shade.
What Is SPF Rating?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, indicating how well a sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays that damage the skin, cause sunburn, and lead to skin cancer. The number beside the SPF indicates how much time it takes for your skin to start to redden with sunscreen as opposed to how much time it takes without it.
If you normally get a sunburn after about 10 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen, an SPF15 will provide 15 times the protection – keeping your skin from getting a sunburn for approximately 150 minutes. However, this isn’t a 100% accurate assessment. How much protection you’ll receive with your sunscreen for runners will depend on your skin type, tone, how susceptible you are to sunburns, and how well you apply your sunscreen but also the intensity of the sun.
Experts generally recommend using an SPF30 sunscreen as it blocks about 97% of the damaging UVB rays. An SPF50 blocks just slightly more, about 98% of UVB. A lighter sunscreen with SPF15, which blocks out about 93% of UVB, is generally recommended as lip protection.
Broad Spectrum Sunscreens
When sunscreen shopping, you’ll come across the term “broad spectrum” on some bottles, but not on others. This term is very important as it tells you how well a sunscreen will protect you against both UVB and UVA rays.
UVB rays are those associated with sunburns. They damage the skin’s surface, causing reddening and irritation, and most sunscreens are designed to protect against UVB rays.
UVA rays are the longest wavelength, making up for about 95% of UV radiation that reaches the earth. They penetrate deep into the skin, causing damage related to premature aging of the skin.
Both UVB and UVA rays can cause skin cancer, so it’s essential to protect your skin from both. Only broad spectrum sunscreens offer protection from both UVB and UVA rays. Look for a label that specifies a broad spectrum when buying new sunscreen.
Is It Resistant to Water and Sweat?
There isn’t such a thing as “waterproof” sunscreen for runners, but most sunscreens do have some resistance to water and sweat.
As previously mentioned, there are two different types of sunscreen: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreen that stays on the skin’s surface doesn’t usually fare well with water and sweat but can handle it for a while. Chemical sunscreen that gets absorbed in the skin typically has better water and sweat resistance, but will still require reapplication.
Most sunscreen types for runners will stay on wet skin for between 40 and 80 minutes, and the time will be indicated on the label. Make sure to reapply sunscreen according to the instructions on the bottle to ensure the utmost protection.
Which Sunscreens for Runners Are Safe?
Sunscreen products are strictly regulated, so virtually any brand you get will be safe for your skin when running, much safer than no sun protection at all.
Most runners are worried about sunscreens inhibiting their ability to thermoregulate (or sweat to cool off) and affecting their performance. However, we couldn’t find a connection between sunscreens and the ability to sweat. So, using sunscreen will not make you feel hotter and affect your performance.
As a general rule of thumb, the safest sunscreen for runners will have a 30 SPF, be resistant to sweat and water for at least 40 minutes, and protect against both UVB and UVA rays (broad spectrum).
How to Take Care of the Environment
With the increase in usage of sunscreen, there’s been a growing concern about how certain ingredients affect marine life and the environment. Some of the most concerning ingredients that act as UV filters in sunscreens include octocrylene, ethylhexyl salicylate, octinoxate, and most notoriously – oxybenzone. This substance has been linked to coral reef bleaching by researchers.
Typical wastewater treatment plant techniques can’t filter these substances, so they easily enter and start polluting rivers, lakes, and oceans.
If you want to protect yourself and the environment, it’s essential to use sunscreen that contains all-natural ingredients without these concerning UV filters.
How to Apply the Right Way
Unfortunately, many runners who do use sunscreen daily don’t actually apply it correctly. To ensure maximum protection, you have to be very liberal with your sunscreen application and cover every inch of your skin that’ll be exposed to the sun – including hands, ears, back of the neck, even hair part if you’re not wearing a hat (which you should!).
You’ll need about 1 ounce of sunscreen to properly cover your entire body.
Make sure to reapply the sunscreen based on the instructions on the label. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll need to reapply (using a full ounce again) every two hours. If you’re sweating, you’ll need to reapply after 40 or 80 minutes, depending on what it says on the label.
When choosing a good sunscreen for runners, price is a very important thing to consider. You don’t want to put a major dent in your budget, but you don’t want to stingy either.
Cheaper sunscreens will often have lower quality ingredients that could harm the environment and cause skin irritation without offering much sun protection. More expensive sunscreens will usually provide adequate protection, but you’ll be only paying more for the brand name.
You’ll get the best price-to-value ratio by going for sunscreen kits that offer you several products at a more affordable price tag.
Sunscreen for runners is one of the most important pieces of running equipment. It doesn’t inhibit your performance and offers protection from the harmful UV rays that cause premature aging and can lead to skin cancer.
It’s in your best interest to use sunscreen daily, but also include other gear for sun protection. Wear a hat, UV-filtering sunglasses, and light clothing that covers your arms, legs, and stomach. Seek shade, and stay safe during your run.