How to Be Safe in the Sun

Long-distance runner Beth Schloss learned how important it is to protect her skin from the elements the hard way.

"I ran a marathon where there was pouring rain and lightning at the beginning of the race, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky by the end of it," says Schloss, a doctor in Columbus, Ohio. "I hadn't put on any sunscreen that morning, so I had a pretty impressive sunburn the next day."

Schloss, whose fair skin, light eyes and red hair put her at an increased risk for skin cancer, says, "I've had multiple dysplastic (pre-cancerous) moles removed by a dermatologist. Now I always apply a healthy dose of sweat-proof SPF 45 sunscreen prior to running."

According to a 2006 study by dermatologists at the Medical University of Graz in Austria, marathon runners have a higher incidence of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer than others. It's scary, but it doesn't have to be: Skin cancer is preventable, and there is a cure when it's detected early. Here's how to protect your skin.

The Difference Between UVA and UVB Rays

You can't avoid the sun or its ultraviolet radiation, which can cause problems ranging from premature skin aging to fatal skin cancer. Skin damaging UV comes in two main forms: UVB and UVA rays.

UVB rays cause burning and reddening in the more superficial layers of the epidermis. UVB rays are strongest 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. between April and October in the U.S., but they are present year-round in smaller doses.

UVA rays, the long wavelength ultraviolet radiation, penetrate the deeper layers of the skin and play a major role in skin aging--think wrinkles and sun spots. We are constantly exposed to UVA rays as they can penetrate glass and clouds.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, recent research suggests UVA initiates the development of skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the U.S. that affects more than one million people per year. Skin cancers range from the most frequently diagnosed non-melanoma basal cell carcinoma, which can cause disfiguration, to melanoma, which is responsible for 75 percent of the deaths caused by skin cancer.

Everyone, regardless of skin color, can develop skin cancer, but some people are more susceptible: those with light eyes and hair; a family history of skin cancer; and a propensity for moles.

Marathon runners have an increased risk for obvious reasons, says dermatologist and marathon runner Julie K. Karen, M.D., spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York University.

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