Seven top skin safety tips for sports players

Dr Marianne Nolan|Skin cancer
13 November 2018

If you’re a sports player and want to make sure you’re caring for your skin, these seven top skin safety tips will get you there.

There are many benefits of playing sport and exercising regularly.

It’s good for the heart, it builds muscles, it helps us sweat our toxins and it often helps keep weight in check.

Plus, it just feels good to move.

And while we play sports for health and fun, we take care to do so safely by choosing appropriate shoes, wearing safety gear, training and warming up the body first and resting if we need to.

But our poor old skin doesn’t often get much of a thought when it comes to safety during sport. And because we care about your skin, we’ve got the seven top tips for ensuring skin safety while playing sport.

1. Choose to stay out of the midday sun

Unfortunately, choosing when you play sport may be out of your control. But if you do have flexibly, avoid playing sport outside in the middle of the day when the suns UV levels are at their highest.

The higher the sun’s UV level, the more risk of damage from the sun to your skin.

Of course, UV is worse in the summer, and can be lower on cloudy days.  So to check the sun’s  UV level, scroll down on your iPhone when you are looking at the current temperature on the weather app and you will find the current UV reading. Any reading higher than 2 is dangerous to the skin.

2. Use sun protection

Minimise the risk of sun damage while paying sport by using sunscreen, sunglasses, hats and protective clothing.

When applying sunscreen prior to sport try to find an SPF 50+, water resistant formula that is less like to sweat off. Be generous with your sunscreen application (if in doubt apply two coats of it) and reapply every 2 hours.

Don’t forget little areas that are often forgotten or only given a cursory coverage, such as the ears, bald patches, backs of hands and the top of the feet.

If it’s allowed in the sport that you play, wear wrap around sunglasses to protect your eyes from both direct and lateral sunlight.

A hat is also necessary when spending long periods in the sun. A broad brimmed hat will help protect your face, ears and neck from direct UV light and is always a better choice than a cap.   If this kind of larger hat is not appropriate, a cap will provide more protection than no hat at all, and a legionnaires cap (with fabric at the back to cover the neck) is preferable.

When choosing clothing to play sport in, you may have no choice if a uniform is required. If you have a choice, or if you have influence over the uniform design, ideally choose long sleeves and avoid low cut and low back singlets. These choices will minimise the skin with direct exposure to the sun. A thicker fabric that does not allow light to penetrate will block more UV light from the sun, compared to a thinner fabric that allows a lot of light through.  And UV filtering fabrics are also available.

If you are doing a sport such as cycling, you can buy gloves and sleeves with high sun protection that will protect your hands and arms from UV light. And though it’s not often popular at the beach, rashies and sun protection swimwear are always the skin safe choice.

3. Chaffing and blistering

With sun protection taken care of, the next most common skin condition that exercisers experience is chaffing and blistering. These are simply the result of skin being rubbed too vigorously or too often, in the same spot.

Minimise the risk of chaffing and blisters by protecting areas prone to rubbing with a lubricant such as Vaseline or Body Glide (available at sports stores).

Apply the Body Glide liberally to areas that may chaff and you will help to reduce the breakdown of your skin while doing endurance sports and prevent the pain of chaff in your post sports shower.

Men may wish to apply bandaids to their nipples prior to endurance sports events as this is a common chaffing area.

Blisters are more likely to occur with ill-fitting shoes and with cotton socks. Invest in high quality, properly fitting shoes from a store that specialises in fitting sports shoes.

When buying socks, look for synthetic fabrics, rather than cotton, that wick sweat away from your feet. This helps to keep the skin on your feet dry. Dry feet will blister less than wet feet. Cotton socks stay wet once you sweat and contribute to the formation of blisters.

4. Dry lips and cold sores 

If you’re prone to dry lips or cold sores, try to protect your skin from the sun, as we’ve mentioned above, and from drying out (specially in winter).

Use a sun protective lip balm such as Virapro, Blistex, Chapstick or Carmex and reapply regularly. If you notice a tingling feeling on your lips after prolonged sun and wind exposure when playing sport and think it is the first sign of a cold sore be aware that you can now buy anti-viral cold sore tablets over the counter at pharmacies, but you need to take this medication immediately. It is not effective even a day or so after tingling first appears.

5. Wear thongs (flip flops) in the shower

After playing sport, the shower can be sweet relief. But if you use a communal shower at the gym or pool, consider wearing thongs.

Unfortunately, public showers can be super breeding grounds for both planter warts and tinea. Even though we can treat these conditions, it is much better to prevent them than try to fix them later.

After you shower, dry your feet well and allow them to air by wearing sandals rather than placing them back into moist sports shoes. This will minimise your risk of tinea. It’s also good to allow your sports shoes some time to air out and dry.

6. Clean the sweat of all your skin well, and safely

Ensuring you clean your skin well after it’s been sweating is really important to skin health. Just standing under the shower and enjoying the feeling isn’t going to cut it.

Facial skin, and skin that is prone to acne (like chests, shoulders and backs) is particularly susceptible to sweat build ups. A good quality, low-oil facial cleanser should be used on your face, neck and décolletage daily, but particularly so after sweating.

A skin wash specifically designed for acne prone skin is also a good choice for removing the oils contained in sweat and ensuring they don’t remain on the skin to cause more break outs.

For regular body skin, a soap that doesn’t contain fragrances or harsh chemicals is easier on the skin, such as OV or oat-based products. This can be important if you’re having two (or more) showers a day and using soap each time. Many soaps are fine for once-a-day use, but can be drying and damaging if used more often.

A light moisturiser is also helpful after skin is cleaned well. We recommend our Radiance products, for great quality daily facial moisturising.

7. Get regular skin checks

Finally, if you do spend time outside regularly enjoying sport (and this goes for participants and spectators) , ensure you have an annual skin check with a dermatologist to make sure that any signs of sun damage can be caught early and managed well.

Why not make an appointment with our dermatologist, Dr Terence Poon, to have your skin checked before the summer sun sees too much of your skin? Call our friendly receptionists today to make your appointment on (02) 9953 9522.


Written by Dr Marianne Nolan.
Dr Marianne has been our cosmetic physician for over 20 years and loves helping patients look great for their age.