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13th March 2018

The Ultimate Guide to Sun Protection for Outdoor Sports

Whether your kit bag includes shin pads, a gum shield or a helmet make sure you always carry sun protection.

Whether you’re tying your harness, stretching out your limbs, or buckling on your skis, everyone who loves outdoor sports knows that proper preparation is key to enjoying a fun day of activity. However, many people forget that protecting their skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays is just as important when you’re doing sports outside.

Between prolonged sun exposure, sweating, and spending time in water, there are plenty of opportunities to get sunburnt even if you do apply sunscreen before heading out for fun in the outdoors[1]. That’s why we’ve created the ultimate guide to sun protection for outdoor sports, so you can stay protected while you enjoy the activities that you love.

Water Sports

If your favourite outdoor activity involves spending time in the water, then you need to be especially careful when it comes to protecting yourself from the sun. Not only does water increase the amount of UV you are exposed to because it reflects the sun’s rays, it also reduces the amount of time your sun protection lasts.

The cooling effect of water can also make you think you are not getting burnt. With a water-based sport like surfing, it is easier to remember to reapply your sunscreen regularly, because we know that the water may be washing it off. It is also important to remember to reapply regularly if you are doing sports like kayaking, however, as the reflection from the water increases your exposure to harmful UV rays.

You should apply a high factor sunscreen with broad spectrum UVA and UVB cover before you head out to enjoy a water sport. You should apply around one teaspoon of sunscreen per limb and area of the body at least 20 minutes before you are going out in the sun. This should be reapplied as directed on the bottle and after going in the water, even if it is water resistant.

Winter Sports

Winter sport enthusiasts might think that sun protection is the last of their worries, but winter sporting conditions actually increase your risk of sun damage. Higher altitudes increase your risk of sun damage, because UV exposure increases by roughly 5% with every 1,000 feet above sea level. This means that at an altitude of 10,000 feet, UV radiation may be as much as 45% stronger than it would be at sea level. In addition to this, the snow acts as a reflective surface, bouncing the sun’s UV rays back towards you for a double dose of UV exposure.

If you are doing winter sports, it is important to apply a high factor, broad-spectrum sunscreen to any exposed areas of skin. Be sure to cover areas like the nostrils that wouldn’t usually be as exposed to the sun as they are when UV rays are reflected upwards off the snow’s surface. You should also protect your eyes from the sun during winter sports, as they can also be damaged by the sun’s UV rays[2].

Extreme Sports

For extreme sports enthusiasts, it can feel like the risk of sun damage is trivial compared to the threat of falling rocks or a wrongly fastened harness. Sun damage can be just as fatal, however, especially if you spend long hours in the sun without protection. If you enjoy activities such as rock climbing or white-water rafting, it is likely that you will spend prolonged amounts of time in the sun. It’s possible to love that adrenaline rush and still limit the sun’s risk to your skin, however, so be sure to extend your protection to your sun care regime.

Extreme sports often involve high levels of activity or water, so be sure to choose a sunscreen that maintains a high SPF, even when your skin is working hard. Wearing a specially formulated sports sunscreen and keeping as much of your body covered as possible while you’re exercising will help to limit your exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Competitive Sports

If you are a competing athlete in a sport played outdoors, it is likely that you spend a large amount of time both training and competing outside. Although spending extended amounts of time training outdoors is essential to make sure you’re on top form, it can also make you vulnerable to damage by the sun’s UV rays. It is also important to remember that you are not only vulnerable to skin damage on sunny days, but also when it is cloudy.

Even on a cloudy day, up to 80% of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate the cloud cover. For those competing in outdoor sports, taking measures to protect your skin from the sun will ensure that you can perform at your best for longer.

Where possible, you can schedule training for the early morning or late afternoon, avoiding the time between 10am and 4pm when the sun’s UV rays are strongest. Using a specially formulated sports sunscreen every day, not just when it’s sunny, will also help protect your skin while you train and compete. Choose one that not only has a high SPF and broad-spectrum UV cover, but also one that retains its SPF even when the skin is sweating heavily[3].

If you want a sunscreen you can rely on to keep you protected, no matter how hard you’re working, why not try SunSense’s Sport range? Specially formulated for active skin, it provides SPF 50/50+ and broad-spectrum UV cover so you don’t have to worry about protecting your skin while you work out. With gel and mist formulas to choose from, staying protected while you get active has never been so easy. Check out the full range, here.

[1] Moehrle M. Outdoor Sports and Skin Cancer. Clin Dermatol. 2008;26: 5-12.

[2] Essential Outdoor Sun Safety Tips for Winter. [internet] [updated 2010 Dec 17; cited 2017 May 26] Availably from:

[3] Sun Protection Tips for Athletes and Weekend Warriors. [internet] [updated 2016 Aug 5; cited 2017 May 26] Available from:


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