Trail Running in the Sun: Protection with Sunscreen is Paramount

Written by Lisa Heggie for the spring 2020 edition of our Trail Times newsletter. Lisa is co-owner of  KINeSYS, an American Trail Running Association corporate member.

For those of us who hear the call of trails, there is complete certainty in what moves our soul. We love the outdoors, we are drawn to the mountains, forests, and deserts. We crave the feeling of movement with purpose, and the adventure which lies in each new experience. But our endeavors leave us exposed to nature’s forces — wind, rain…and sunlight.

Spending time in the outdoors means we are particularly prone to sun damage, including sunburn, premature aging, and even skin cancer. Though the consequences are not as immediate as many risks we face, protecting against sun damage is of vital importance.

What does this exposure to the sun means for your skin? Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and it’s estimated that over 9,000 people are diagnosed every day. Melanoma rates in the United States doubled from 1982 to 2011 and have continued to increase.

Busting three pervasive sun exposure myths:

  1. Clouds provide cover. Contrary to what most people believe, dangerous days aren’t just the ones that are hot and sunny. 80% of UV passes through clouds. This means that it’s possible to get sun damage on overcast days when you’re not even thinking about the sun.
  2. The “safe tan”. One of the most persistent and dangerous myths you’re likely to hear is the ‘base tan’ myth. This is the idea that by developing a light base tan, your body is being protected by its own ‘natural sunscreen’. Tanning is the result of the skin’s exposure to UV rays, which damage the skin and cause a mutation in the DNA. This means that even the slightest tan is an indication of existing damage.
  3. Winter sun exposure is safe. UV radiation affects us in every location on our planet, during every month of the year. In winter, UVB rays, which cause sunburn, can be weaker than they are in summer. However, the UVA rays which cause wrinkles, premature aging and skin damage, including cancer, are just as strong during the colder months. UV radiation is especially strong in the mountains, as its concentration is increased with altitude. With every 1,000 feet increase in altitude, UV levels increase by 4-5 percent.

What makes a great sunscreen for trail running?  There are several factors you should consider when choosing sun protection for trail running including:

  • Formula that won’t run into your eyes and sting.
  • A product you can perspire through, to avoid the feeling of overheating. Sunscreens that contain oil may block pores and inhibit your body’s natural cooling mechanism.
  • It’s easy to apply on-the-go.
  • Doesn’t have a fragrance. No one likes running in a perfume cloud.
  • Compact enough to take with you – small and light enough to comfortably fit in your running vest.

American Trail Running Association member KINeSYS produces a high-performance sunscreen that has been protecting athletes for 25 years. A non-aerosol spray, KINeSYS is an alcohol-free and oil-free sunscreen. The packaging is designed to be compact, the product goes on easily, absorb quickly, and leave no oily residue.

More reasons why KINeSYS is a good sunscreen for trail runners:

  • UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum Protection.
  • No Greasy, Sticky Residue.
  • Vegan/cruelty free.
  • Water & Sweat Resistant up to 80 minutes.
  • Contains no parabens, PABAs, preservatives, colorants or oxybenzone.
  • It’s a clear spray sunscreen which dries quickly to a matte, silky finish.
  • Won’t run into your eyes and sting.
  • Contains vitamin E to nourish the skin.

Sun Protection Starts in Training. Race day is not the right time to start using protection, or test a new sunscreen. Find which product works best for you to ensure you have no reactions, and like the way it feels and smells. All the miles you run during training days add up to a significant amount of sun exposure. Use training time to develop an application routine, know the best position to carry your sunscreen, and how to quickly reapply on the go.

Stay protected from 3 miles to 100. Protecting yourself from sun exposure is all about developing good routines and habits. Following are five points to remember:

  1. Use a high-performance, quality sunscreen designed with athletes in mind. When outdoors re-apply every two (2) hours. When perspiring reapply every 80mins.
  2. Remember that as you move, so will your clothing. Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, being sure to pull up sleeves and shorts that will move as you run.
  3. Cover up where you can: wear clothing that protects your skin, the more you cover the better, and choose fabrics that are made from close-knit fibers with a high UPF rating.
  4. UV levels are at their highest, between 10am and 3pm. Running during these hours will greatly increase your chance of sun damage. When possible choose shaded trails during peak UV times.
  5. Get regular skin checks: Don’t forget to head to your physician or dermatologist for regular skin checks, as picking up on any potentially dangerous skin spots early is incredibly important.

Becoming knowledgeable about exposure, and proactive with sun protection, will lead to many more trails of exploration, races fueled by adventure, and years running alongside our amazing running community. Have fun and stay sun safe out there!

Editor’s Note: Be safe as we continue to navigate the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, continue to follow the recommendations and updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including proper hygiene practices. Also consider reading iRunFar’s COVID-19: A Trail Running and Ultrarunning Community Guide.