Summer running can be heavenly—the sun kisses your shoulders as visions of post-run margaritas dance in your head. Plus, there’s something about ending a run covered in sweat that feels just a little more…hard-core. But if you’re not careful, all that heat, humidity and salt can also wreak havoc and cause skin problems. Here’s how you can protect yourself from some common summer skin issues, without sacrificing any of your time on the trails.
Skin Problems: Sunburn
Solution: Focus on prevention—SPF is your friend.
We know you’ve heard it a million times, but it’s important enough to repeat: Sunscreen is non-negotiable for runners, even on a cloudy day. “When you’re going to be perspiring, the key is to get a water-resistant formula that will stand up to your workout,” says Dr. Noelle Sherber, a Washington, D.C.–based dermatologist.
At the minimum, you need a 30 SPF rating, and a “broad-spectrum” designation on the package, which means that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Sherber also looks for a combination of mineral and chemical filters, which tend to be most reliable in terms of protection, in products such as Soleil Toujours Mineral Based Sunscreen Continuous Mist ($36, soleiltoujours.com). If you’re out for a long run, chances are that you’ll need to reapply. Most sunscreen packages will give you an estimate (e.g., 80 minutes, though two hours should be the max). Pro tip from Sherber: Set an alarm on your phone to make sure you remember when you need to re-up.
Skin Problems: Blisters
Solution: Start protecting—and stop popping.
Nothing can turn a good run into a disaster like the biting pain of a sore spot on your foot, and blisters are particularly common in hot weather. According to Dr. Brian Adams, a sports dermatologist at the University of Cincinnati, the “perfect recipe for a blister is heat, moisture and friction between the skin and a fixed object.”
To prevent blisters, wear moisture-wicking socks, which provide a barrier against friction and keep the skin cool and dry—we particularly love Injinji Run Lightweight No- Show ($12, injinji.com), which isolate every toe for maximum rub-control. For additional protection, use a gel stick like Chamois Butt’r GoStick ($15, chamoisbuttr.com).
If a blister does form, resist the urge to pop it, which can create an infection. Instead, Sherber says to cover the area with a gel pad, such as Band-Aid Advanced Healing Blister Pads ($5 for six, drugstore.com). “Try not to wear the same shoes once you have a blister,” Sherber says. “The sustained friction will perpetuate the blister and slow healing.”
Skin Problems: Chafing
Solution: Baby your skin—literally.
You’ve just gotten back from a long, hot run, and nothing sounds better than a cool shower. Then the water hits and—surprise!—all of a sudden you’re a stinging mess.
Like blisters, chafing is the result of skin friction, which worsens the more you sweat.
To keep from rubbing yourself raw, invest in an anti-chafing stick or cream, like Bag Balm Ointment ($10 for 8 oz., amazon.com), and apply early and often. Make sure to hit both spots where the skin rubs against itself (thighs) and where it rubs against clothing (under your sports bra, around the armholes of your shirt and at the waistband of your shorts or leggings).
If you do end up with some soreness, Dr. Barry Goldman, a New York dermatologist and marathon runner, suggests treating with an over-the-counter vitamin A and D cream—otherwise known as diaper-rash ointment.
Skin Problems: Acne
Solution: Avoid stale sweat and fabric softener.
It sometimes seems like summer runs are served with a side of breakouts. But while the sweat may be unavoidable, Sherber says, the clogged pores don’t have to be.
When you get back from your run, wash your face immediately to remove any bacteria. “Kaolin clay and salicylic acid are ingredients that can get into pores and wick out the combination of oil, perspiration, grime and sunscreen that can accumulate while running,” Sherber says. She recommends Natura Bisse Stabilizing Cleansing Mask ($51, naturabisse.com) as a gym-bag essential.
Acne can also pop up on the back, shoulders, chest and butt. To combat it, wear moisture-wicking clothing during your run and resist the temptation to lounge around afterward in your sweaty clothes—throw them in the washer and yourself in the shower immediately. Sherber also recommends avoiding dryer sheets and fabric softeners on sports bras in particular. “They leave a film on the fabric that can get into your pores when you sweat.”
Skin Problems: Cellulite
Solution: Seek UV protection.
It’s one of life’s great injustices: Running increases muscle tone, but exercising in the sun can have a less-than-awesome effect on your lean, mean summer bod. “UV light generates free radicals that break down collagen and can thin the skin and decrease its firmness, which can exacerbate the tendency to develop cellulite,” Sherber says. To combat this, she advises runners to look for UV-rated clothing and up their sunscreen game.