Outdoor Activities Affect Our Skin

Outdoor sports and activities are a great part of a healthy lifestyle.  Many would agree that being outdoors not only helps with physical fitness, but also an overall sense of well-being.  Being outside can have harmful effects on our skin if we don’t take proper precautions to protect ourselves. Whether it is running, biking, strolling, boating, or gardening, it is important to be aware of how to prevent skin damage.  

1) Wear Sunscreen and Reapply.  The greatest danger of being outdoors is damage from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun.  Exposure to ultraviolet radiation puts us at risk for skin cancer, and 90% of non-melanoma and 85% melanoma skin cancers are directly associated with exposure to UV light.[1] In fact, over their lifetime, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer.[2]  Sun exposure also leads to premature wrinkles, vascular disorders, and hyperpigmentation, or areas of skin darkening. All of these effects lead to visible signs of premature aging.[3] The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends generously applying a broad-spectrum (covers UVA and UVB rays), water-resistant sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.  The sunscreen should be applied 15 minutes PRIOR to going outdoors and needs to be reapplied every 2 hours or after sweating or swimming.[4] A trick to get even better protection is to reapply the sunscreen after 15 minutes since some of the sunscreen will settle into the skin and a second application can crate a thicker layer on your skin. Don’t forget about applying sunscreen to your scalp and ears, especially if there is sunlight exposure to where the hair may be parted, thinned, or missing. 

2) Wear Protective Clothing.  The AAD recommends that in addition to applying a generous amount of sunscreen, those people participating in outdoor activities should also wear clothing that completely covers the arms and legs, and wearing a large-brimmed hat whenever possible.[5] Revolutionary advances have been made in technology for sun-safe clothing, giving people more protection against the deadly harms of sun exposure.[6] The Skin Cancer Foundation has stamped a seal of approval for a number of sun-protective clothing companies based on the protective power of the fabric.   The protective power of fabric is measured by its Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF), with >30 being good, and 50+ being excellent.[7]

3) Seek Shade and Wear Sunscreen. Regardless of sunscreen use and protective clothing, the Skin Cancer Foundation advises to stay in the shade whenever possible, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM when the sun shines the brightest.[8] Remember to continue wearing sunscreen since ultraviolet light can still find you in the shade.[9] 

4) Protect Your Eyes.  Exposure to ultraviolet light can lead to cataracts, a common cause of blindness in the world.  Additionally, the sun can damage the delicate skin surrounding the eyes.  It is recommended that we wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays, with “wrap-around” styles offering the best protection against sneaky rays.[10] 

5) Avoid Chafing.  Physical activity outdoors can result in friction from skin-to-skin contact.  Sweat or rain can increase chafing, leading to skin agitation and discomfort. Chafing can be reduced by wearing moisture-wicking clothing and by applying friction reducing topical agents such as zinc oxide or petroleum containing jelly, or absorbing the moisture through the use of powders.

6) Stay Hydrated.  Outdoor activities can lead to sweating and increased risk for dehydration.  Dehydrated skin has poor skin turgor and results in skin tenting.[13] Drinking plenty of water will help to maintain skin hydration.[14]

7) Moisturize.  Exposure to dry air outdoors, along with sun damage, can lead to dry and/or irritated skin. Using a moisturizer in the form of an ointment or cream may help protect against dry skin, especially when doing outdoor activities.[15] 

Spending time outdoors is a great way to improve health, both physically and mentally.  However, it is important to protect your skin by limiting sun exposure through protective clothing, eyewear, and sunscreen. Temperature, wind, and sweat could also lead to skin irritation or dehydration, so using a moisturizer and drinking lots of water may be beneficial.  


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