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A Runner’s Guide To Sun Protection

Photo: Shutterstock.com
Photo: Shutterstock.com

Distressed and leathery may be desirable attributes for your favorite pair of boots—but not your skin. As for golden and sun-kissed, the color change is actually your skin’s defensive response to sun damage. For those who say that added color is extra protection, Dr. Karen Nern, board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon with Vail and Aspen Dermatology in Colorado, says that’s just not true.

“The color is a damage response, which can be prevented by wearing mineral-based sunscreens and covering up or, if possible, avoiding the sun during the brightest times of the day,” says Nern, a Colorado native used to living and playing in the harsh, high-altitude environment.

Related: About Face—Skincare Routines For Everyone

Dr. Lynn Tucker, aka “The Sunscreen Lady” opened her Dermatologic Skin Care Clinic in Baton Rouge, La., in 1985, where she’s been dispensing her “prevent damage now so you don’t have to treat it later” wisdom for 30 years.

Tucker is a strong believer in the 3 C’s: choice (whether to wear sunscreen or not), consequence (of accruing sun damage) and change (to wearing the correct, complete-spectrum mineral sunscreen every day, even when you aren’t running).

We quizzed both doctors about the products they use at home. Nern and Tucker both prefer products that are protective and reparative. They recommend the following to be a part of every runner’s self care.

Wear sunscreen.

Choose a mineral-based (zinc), broad-spectrum version that protects against both UVB and UVA rays. According to Nern, “Zinc-based sunscreens work like a reflector in your window to keep rays from warming and penetrating the skin.” Tucker recommends products with micro-pulverized zinc for easy blending (she especially likes EltaMD spray for the body and EltaMD sport 50 for the face, ears and neck areas). For those concerned about absorbing sunscreen through their skin, zinc-based products have an added benefit. Recent studies show that taking small amounts of zinc internally (check your multi-vitamin) may help protect skin from cancer. Nern addresses low vitamin D concerns by suggesting that patients take a supplement if they are concerned about not getting enough.

Related: 4 Skincare Issues—And How To Fix ‘Em!

Try fern extract.

This type of sun protection is an oral supplement with antioxidant properties that may help prevent sunburn and sun damage on a cellular level. Nern suggests Heliocare ($30, walgreens.com) if you’re interested in testing out the extract. Eating tomatoes can also help protect skin in a similar manner.

Apply vitamin C topical antioxidant every morning.

When radiation from the sun reacts with oxygen, the oxygen splits, becoming a free radical that binds to and damages skin tissue. A topical antioxidant acts as a barrier and protects the skin. Tucker recommends SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($162, skinceuticals.com).

Apply vitamin A-based retinol every night.

According to Nern, everyone—starting in her teens—should use a topical retinol every day (unless you are pregnant or nursing) because it reverses damage.

Use a Clarisonic brush.

The rotating bristles of the Clarisonic Mia 1 ($99, clarisonic.com) clean and exfoliate for smooth, fresh skin.

Hydrate and eat fruits and vegetables.

Hydration is key to keeping skin healthy and moisturized from the inside out. Nern also recommends eating plenty of fruits and veggies, especially colorful ones, for a non-damaging and all-around natural glow.

Reach for the aloe vera and hydrocortisone.

Mistakes happen! If you get burned, Nern recommends applying soothing aloe vera or hydrocortisone to reduce inflammation.

Allison Pattillo

Allison Pattillo

Allison played field hockey and golf while growing up, but always ran “just for the fun of it.” She completed and won her age group in her very first race, a 5K, when she was 26 so that she would at least know how to pin on her number before running her first marathon a month later. Those two races turned into dozens, from mile long sprints to ultras, running to triathlon with some ski and snowshoe racing mixed in as well. After earning a Boston qualifier and completing her first IRONMAN 140.6, this mother of two is now focused on seeing how much she can better her 3:48 PB marathon time, running the World Marathon Majors (Boston and Tokyo are in the books!) and tackling a 50-miler.