An athlete's guide to sun care

Now that the weather's balmy, it's time to get outside and play! But before you hit the field or pound those trails, consider this: Athletes are more likely to develop suspicious moles and skin abnormalities than their couch-potato counterparts, according to a 2006 study in the Archives of Dermatology. That's because active women simply log more time outside -- and that makes using the proper protection all the more important.

May is National Skin Care Month, and to honor that we're sharing smart tips to make sure that your muscles are the only things burning during your next workout.

1. Put sunscreen front and center. You already know how to slather on the stuff. But chances are, you aren't doing it. A staggering 94 percent of collegiate soccer players and cross-country runners cop to not regularly wearing sunscreen, say researchers from the University of Cincinnati. To remind yourself, place a bottle next to your sneakers or stash one in your workout bag. The best sunscreen, said Atlanta-based dermatologist Matthew Reschly, is one with broad-spectrum protection and an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30. "Look for brands that use titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which don't break down in the heat as easily," Reschly said. "And they're less irritating on the skin."

2. Take a shot. Most of us rub on only a measly 10 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen, which should be enough to fill a shot glass. Not good. Instead, go generous with the white stuff. Apply a healthy-size handful to exposed areas 15 to 30 minutes before your workout, and reapply at least every two hours. "If you're working up a sweat, make that once an hour," said Kimberly Grande, a dermatologist and co-founder of the Skin Wellness Center in Knoxville, Tenn. So if you're headed out for a long run, tuck a travel-size tube into your running shorts for the necessary reapplication.

3. Reinforce your clothes. Your favorite dry-weave top may be great at wicking away sweat, but it won't shield your skin. Most T-shirts have an SPF of only 7, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Fortunately, several manufacturers are weaving sun-protective fibers into their clothes. Check for labels with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) seal, which means that the fabric blocks UVA and UVB rays. Or toss your favorite outfits in the laundry with SunGuard ($1.99; sunguardsunprotection.com), a product that gives your gear the equivalent of an SPF of 30 for up to 20 washes.

4. Keep an eye out. Besides causing you to squint, sun exposure can also raise your risk for skin cancer on the eyelids, for cataracts and for macular degeneration, a vision-robbing disease. Protect your peepers with wraparound lenses treated to block both UVA and UVB rays. Athletes benefit most from brown or amber lenses, which reduce light intensity and increase contrast -- helping you spot that ball -- more than other shades, according to researchers from the University of Houston College of Optometry.

5. Suit up -- the right way. "A significant number of my female patients have sun damage on their upper chest," Grande said. "And low-cut T-shirts and tennis dresses are partly to blame." Remember to apply sunscreen, or pick a top with a higher neckline. Other often-missed areas: the tops of the ears and the back of the neck.

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