Enjoying an active lifestyle presents challenges when it comes to maintaining the health of your skin. Being the largest and most visible organ of the body, skin reveals much about an individual. Here’s some advice for athletic women who want to keep their skin clear and healthy.
Sun: Your Biggest Concern
As a dermatologist, the most common issues I see in athletic women are photo-aging and skin cancer. Photo-aging includes irregular pigmentation, wrinkling, and broken blood vessels, all of which are usually due to the cumulative effects of sun exposure. Protecting your skin when you are outdoors can have a tremendous effect on preventing premature aging and skin cancer. Currently, 1 in 5 people in the U.S. will develop nonmelanoma skin cancers over their lifetime. Hats and sun protective clothing with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) of 50 or greater should be the first line of defense.
For skin not covered by clothing, a sunblock containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide with at least an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 should be applied and then reapplied at least every 2-3 hours. Sunblocks with zinc or titanium physically reflect ultraviolet radiation, in contrast to sunscreens, which chemically absorb it. Sunblocks are far more effective than sunscreens at providing broader spectrum coverage to block both ultraviolet A and B radiation. Examples of sunblocks containing zinc or titanium include Neutrogena’s Total Sunblock, Blue Lizard, Kotz, and Procyte’s Ti-Silc. Newer sunscreens recently introduced in the U.S. markets include stabilized forms of avobenzone (Helioplex, Active Barrier Complex, Dermaplex, SunSure, AvoTriplex) and Mexoryl and are a marked improvement over existing sunscreens in providing better ultraviolet protection.
Despite vigilant use of sunblocks and sunscreens, if you are of Northern European descent and spend significant time in the outdoors, you will likely still develop some “age spots.” Age spots are flat, brown areas called ephelides (freckles) and lentigines. These typically appear on the face, neck, chest, back, and hands. They will often lighten over the winter months, as most of us tend to get less sun exposure during this time. Some, however, may not fade and can be removed with prescription creams, liquid nitrogen therapy, chemical peels, or laser technologies.
For women with acne or rosacea, keep your skin-care routine simple. Use a gentle cleanser such as Cetaphil, Neutrogena Foaming Cleanser, Purpose, or Dove. Use a moisturizer/sunblock that is “noncomedogenic” (does not clog pores) and “oil free.” Do not assume a product is either of these—these words need to be written on the product.
Wearing Makeup During Hiking/Running/Skiing/Biking
Avoid wearing liquid foundations when you exercise. They tend to occlude (clog) the skin and decrease its breathability. Newer mineral powders typically offer an SPF of 15-25 and tend to be lighter and less occlusive than liquid foundations. Apply makeup after your sunblock. Use a gentle cleanser again after you exercise to remove any dirt or debris that accumulates on your skin.
Intertrigo is another very common skin issue arising in athletes. Intertrigo is a red, sometimes itchy rash occurring in areas of heat and friction such as below the breasts, armpits, groin, or lower belly folds. It is caused by a combination of heat, sweat, and friction. To avoid intertrigo, keep these areas as dry as possible and minimize friction by applying an emollient such as petroleum jelly before you exercise. Use a mild cleanser after exercising and dry the skin completely with a towel or blow dryer. Should a rash develop, application of over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream four times daily for one or two weeks usually treats intertrigo adequately.
Remember, good skin care doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. The single most important component of any skin care regimen is to protect your skin from the long-term damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation. Visit your dermatologist or primary care doctor at least once a year for a complete skin exam, and check your own skin monthly for any new or changing lesions. Last, follow up with your doctor for persistent skin rashes that don’t resolve on their own over time.
Theresa Mann, M.D. is a dermatologist at the Rogers Dermatology Clinic in Bozeman.