Most of us do our running, cycling or swimming in the early morning or late evening hours, which means we are training when the sun’s rays are not at their strongest, between 10am and 4pm, which in turn means we do not have to worry too much about sunburn and the harmful effects of the UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays of the sun. However, we do sometimes go for lunchtime workouts, and some of the longer races we do, notably marathons, ultras, cycle tours and Ironman events, will have us out in the sun for a much longer time, and that’s when sunscreen becomes an absolute essential part of our gear.
Sunscreen comes in different forms – lotions, sprays, gels, sticks – and is designed to absorb or reflect some of the sun’s UV radiation on the skin and thus protect against sunburn (UVB) and cell damage and premature ageing (UVA). All sunscreen products have a sun protection factor (SPF) rating, which is a laboratory measure of the effectiveness of the sunscreen when applied at an even rate of 2 milligrams per square centimetre (mg/cm2). Basically, if your skin starts turning red after an hour, an SPF 15 allows you to stay in the sun 15 times longer before you starting turning red.
However, that doesn’t take into account the varied intensity of the sun’s rays during the day, different skin types, the amount of sunscreen applied and how often it is reapplied, the amount of sunscreen absorbed by the skin, and activities the wearer engages in (swimming and sweating leads to a loss of sunscreen covering). Therefore, athletes are recommended to use at least a SPF30 sunscreen and remember the following sunscreen tips:
• Look for a broad spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
• Apply the sunscreen thickly enough to get the full SPF protection.
• Apply the sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before exposure to the sun. Regular reapplication is necessary after activities such as swimming, sweating and rubbing.
• Beware reflective surfaces like water, sand and concrete, which increase the amount of UV radiation your skin is exposed to.
PUT TO THE TEST
We went looking for sunscreen products and found quite a few ranges out there to test. After smearing in a few armfuls of lotion, we decided that the spray-on types, both pump action bottle and aerosols, are just so much easier to apply, and the transparent types are top of that list, because nobody wants to look like a ghost! Of course, it is very important with these clear sprays to take note where you have sprayed and rubbed, so that you don’t miss a spot and end up with a little patch of sunburnt skin. If you prefer to see where you’ve covered, stick to a lotion or ‘white spray’ like Nivea’s Sun Spray product.
So, here are a few of the choice sunscreen products tested and recommended by the Modern Athlete team. Take note that the prices supplied here are recommended prices only and may vary from one store to another.
Everysun Aquasport Invisi-Spray SPF30 (125ml)
R95 at Dis-Chem Pharmacies, Clicks and other outlets.
The Everysun Aquasport range of light, non-sticky, water-resistant sunscreen products is enriched with Teavigo Green Tea extract to help combat the effects of UV sun damage. It also helps prevent premature ageing by eliminating excess free radicals on the skin, while moisturising to keep skin elastic and firm. You can choose from SPF 10 to 50 in lotions, invisi-sprays, aerosol sprays and sticks.
Island Tribe Invisible Spray SPF30 (125ml)
R70 at Dis-Chem Pharmacies, Cape Union Mart and other outlets.
Enriched with vitamin E to increase the protection against UVA rays and the ageing effect they have on our skin, the Island Tribe spray also does the job to protect your skin from UVB rays. Also available in a light lotion format, and Island Tribe have also brought out SPF40 Clear Gel and Stick versions in their sport range, but we preferred sticking to the spray-on version for its ease of use.
Nivea Invisible Protection Transparent Spray SPF30 (200ml)
R100 at Dis-Chem Pharmacies, Clicks and other outlets.
Offering broad spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays, this sunscreen is 100% invisible and sprays on easily, meaning that you don’t even need to rub it in, but we recommend that you do to ensure complete coverage of all exposed skin. If you really want to see what you’re applying to your skin, you can also try the Moisturising Sun Spray or Lotion options.
Piz Buin Active Long Lasting Spray SPF20 (150ml)
R175 at Dis-Chem Pharmacies, Clicks and other outlets.
Available in SPF20 or 30, this aerosol spray is water- and sweat-resistant and offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays, using Piz Buin’s Helioplex formula to ensure this broad spectrum protection. Piz Buin also have a lotion in their range, available in SPF15 and SPF30. This range is substantially more expensive than the others, but then Piz Buin is one of the oldest and most trusted sunscreen manufacturers in the world.
TECHNIblock Ultra Sunblocker SPF40 (150ml)
R100 at Dis-Chem Pharmacies, Clicks, Link Pharmacies and other outlets.
This South African company was one of the first in the world to produce an aerosol sunscreen in the early 1990s and now has SPF15 and SPF40 products in its range, in various sized tins from 125ml to 340ml. Being transparent and non-greasy in a spray format meant it went on to hairier parts of the body without any problems or the need for much rubbing in. Also available in a SPF40 stick.
Modern Athlete Choice
Tropitone Acti-Sport Sunscreen Spray SPF30 (125ml)
R85 at Dis-Chem Pharmacies, Clicks and other outlets.
This broad spectrum water- and sweat-resistant sunscreen comes in SPF15 and SPF30 options, and we tested the pump-action clear spray type. Easy to spray on and rub in, and easily absorbed by the skin, the non-greasy formula is enriched with Monoi Tahitian coconut oil, which helps keep your skin moist and supple while you work out in the sun. The Acti-Sport range also offers lotions, gels, aerosol sprays as well as sticks.