Protect Your Skin

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Jennifer Winkleman, PA, Christie Clinic Department of Dermatology, Guest Blogger

For many, running can be an enjoyable form of exercise and a good source of stress relief. Running can, however, take a toll on our skin—especially if running outdoors. With a little preparation and the right equipment, common skin problems associated with running can be avoided.


Regardless of the weather, all runners should wear sunscreen. The ultraviolet rays that the sun produces put runners at risk for skin cancer and premature aging. Even on the cloudiest of days, those rays can penetrate the clouds and cause damage to your skin, leading to cancers, pre-cancers, brown spots, and wrinkles. When applying sunscreen, pay special attention to your lips, ears, and shoulders.

Recommendations for choosing a sunscreen:

  • SPF of 30 or higher
  • Protects against both UVA and UVB rays
  • Runners should also choose a sunscreen that is water-resistant. This will help prevent sunscreen from running into your eyes due to sweat.
  • Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before heading outside
  • Sunscreen should be reapplied every 1 to 2 hours.
  • For acne-prone runners, there are many specialty sunscreens available that don’t lead to breakouts.

To further reduce the risk of damaging UV exposure, avoid running between peak sun hours. It’s best to avoid any exposure to the sun, but especially from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest. And remember, just because it’s cloudy or raining doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind and avoid sun protection.


Opting to wear a shirt is preferred rather than going without one or wearing a sleeveless top. Hats are better than visors in protecting your scalp. Be sure to wear sunglasses during every run and choose a pair that has 100% UV protection, as melanoma and other cancers can form in or around the eyes.


Clothing choices factor into chafing. Ill-fitting clothing (including undergarments) and fabric that doesn’t wick moisture will lead to friction, which will injure your skin causing a red rash that feels raw or could blister. Try to avoid tags and seams that rub against your skin. Again, experimenting with clothing should be done before race day so that you know what you are wearing feels comfortable and does not cause problems. If you are wearing a running pack or vest, be sure that it fits appropriately, too. It should be snug enough to limit the amount of movement while running but not too tight.

While wearing clothes that fit properly is important, it may not be enough to prevent chafing completely. Applying lubrication to high-risk areas like the thighs, groin, nipples, and armpits can help. Staying hydrated is also important in reducing chafing. Sweat becomes more concentrated the more dehydrated we become, which can cause additional irritation.

If chafing develops despite the best of intentions, there are several helpful strategies. Take a shower as soon as possible to get rid of the sweat still on your skin. Use lukewarm water and a very gentle cleanser. Pat dry, do not rub. After cleaning the area, treat the area like a minor burn by using Vaseline, Aquaphor, or Zinc Oxide to soothe the area. Cover loosely with gauze and wear loose clothing to reduce further friction. And take a few days off from running to allow the area to heal. If the area is extremely painful or bleeding, it’s best to check with your provider.


Blisters are another common problem that can plague runners. Blisters are also caused by friction. The body responds to the friction by producing fluid, which builds up beneath the skin, causing pressure and pain. Besides pain, blisters aren’t usually a big problem, but if not treated properly they can lead to infection, which can definitely interfere with training and big races.

Prevention of blisters is the best form of treatment. Treatment of dry skin, which is more prone to friction, is something simple that can be done on a daily basis to prevent friction and thus prevent blisters. Synthetic socks that wick away moisture may also be beneficial. Feet can also be coated with Vaseline or another type of lubricant to help prevent friction. Keep in mind, ill-fitting shoes are also a major culprit of blisters. Make sure your shoes are broken in before a big race.

Preparation is key prior to any race, and these tips should help you have a race with minimal skin issues. Happy Running!

As a physician assistant in the Department of Dermatology, Jennifer Winkleman cares for patients with skin conditions, provides medical treatments, and diagnoses skin diseases. She performs physical examinations, prescribes, interprets laboratory tests, and performs skin biopsies and surgery.