Outdoor recreation is a common and fun way to stay active. However, constant exposure to ultraviolet rays put outdoor athletes at risk for skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and one in five Americans are projected to develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Although skin cancers are known to be the most successfully treated human cancers, it is estimated to cost approximately $8.1 billion annually to treat skin cancers with more than one million new diagnoses of skin cancers each year in the United States.
A common safety precaution for outdoor activities is to avoid sun exposure during peak UV exposure hours from 10 AM to 4 PM, but it is often impractical for many outdoor enthusiasts. Prolonged UV exposure causes skin damage and results in greater skin cancer risk. Despite this risk, studies revealed that the majority of outdoor collegiate athletes who responded to their surveys admitted to rarely using sunscreen.  Here are some outdoor recreation safety tips and precautions for outdoor athletes.
Clouds are not Protective Enough
Cloudiness may not securely protect your skin from sun damage. UV radiation may still be high and sky conditions can change rapidly. Therefore, outdoor safety measures should still be practiced. Attempting to follow shade during exercise does not reliably protect you from UV exposure either. A study that compared shade and sunscreen found that high-SPF sunscreen provided better protection against sunburn than a beach umbrella, although the sunscreen did not completely prevent sunburn.
Skin Cancer in Darker Skin
People with darker complexions also need to protect themselves from UV light. They are less likely to wear sunscreen due to the false notion that they are not at risk for skin cancer.  Although skin cancer in individuals with darker skin is less common than in Caucasians, they still have a higher rate of advanced and thicker skin cancer along with a higher death rate from skin cancer due to delayed diagnosis. [12,13] Safety precautions in outdoor activities are still important.
Safety Precaution Programs
Programs that promoted sun safety habits to professional and recreational athletes have proven successful. National Cancer Institute implemented an intervention at ski resorts in North America through an education program called “Go Sun Smart.” The program logo “Use sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat” was advertised via posters, window decals, table tents, brochures, newsletter articles, a website, and a training module with a presentation. The ski lift operators received sunscreen and wide-brimmed hats. This resulted in reduced sunburn and UVR exposure in skiers and snowboarders. Additionally, providing select NCAA female golfers easy access to sunscreen by placing a supply in their locker rooms and bags increased their sunscreen application. More of these systematic approaches for sun safety education are desired.
Summary of Outdoor Recreation Safety Tips
Wear sun protective gear such as wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, long pants, and long-sleeve shirts
Limit the hours of outdoor practices that occur between 10 AM and 4 PM
* This Website is for general skin beauty, wellness, and health information only. This Website is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. The information provided on this Website should never be used to disregard, delay, or refuse treatment or advice from a physician or a qualified health provider.
Cancer Facts & Figures 2017. American Cancer Society.2017
Robinson JK. Sun exposure, sun protection, and vitamin D. JAMA.2005;294(12):1541-1543; PMID: 16193624 Link to research.
Amir Z, Wright A, Kernohan EE, et al. Attitudes, beliefs and behaviour regarding the use of sunbeds amongst healthcare workers in Bradford. Eur J Cancer Care (Engl).2000;9(2):76-79; PMID: 11261014 Link to research.
Guy GP, Jr., Machlin SR, Ekwueme DU, et al. Prevalence and costs of skin cancer treatment in the U.S., 2002-2006 and 2007-2011. Am J Prev Med.2015;48(2):183-187; PMID: 25442229 Link to research.
Rogers HW, Weinstock MA, Harris AR, et al. Incidence estimate of nonmelanoma skin cancer in the United States, 2006. Arch Dermatol.2010;146(3):283-287; PMID: 20231499 Link to research.
Liffrig JR. Phototrauma prevention. Wilderness Environ Med.2001;12(3):195-200; PMID: 11562019 Link to research.
Hamant ES, Adams BB. Sunscreen use among collegiate athletes. J Am Acad Dermatol.2005;53(2):237-241; PMID: 16021116 Link to research.
Ellis RM, Mohr MR, Indika SH, et al. Sunscreen use in student athletes: a survey study. J Am Acad Dermatol.2012;67(1):159-160; PMID: 22703913 Link to research.
Andersen PA, Buller DB, Walkosz BJ, et al. Environmental cues to UV radiation and personal sun protection in outdoor winter recreation. Arch Dermatol.2010;146(11):1241-1247; PMID: 21079060 Link to research.
Ou-Yang H, Jiang LI, Meyer K, et al. Sun Protection by Beach Umbrella vs Sunscreen With a High Sun Protection Factor: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Dermatol.2017;153(3):304-308; PMID: 28114650 Link to research.
Battie C, Gohara M, Verschoore M, et al. Skin cancer in skin of color: an update on current facts, trends, and misconceptions. J Drugs Dermatol.2013;12(2):194-198; PMID: 23377393 Link to research.
Byrd-Miles K, Toombs EL, Peck GL. Skin cancer in individuals of African, Asian, Latin-American, and American-Indian descent: differences in incidence, clinical presentation, and survival compared to Caucasians. J Drugs Dermatol.2007;6(1):10-16; PMID: 17373156 Link to research.
Cormier JN, Xing Y, Ding M, et al. Ethnic differences among patients with cutaneous melanoma. Arch Intern Med.2006;166(17):1907-1914; PMID: 17000949 Link to research.
Scott MD, Buller DB, Walkosz BJ, et al. Go Sun Smart. Commun Educ.2008;57(4):423; PMID: 20148119 Link to research.
Dubas LE, Adams BB. Sunscreen use and availability among female collegiate athletes. J Am Acad Dermatol.2012;67(5):876 e871-876; PMID: 22305043 Link to research.
Jinna S, Adams BB. Ultraviolet radiation and the athlete: risk, sun safety, and barriers to implementation of protective strategies. Sports Med.2013;43(7):531-537; PMID: 23568372 Link to research.