Swimming is a low impact exercise with physical, mental and emotional health benefits. One of the side effects to swimming outside, however, is the increased exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Summer Sanders, an accomplished U.S. swimmer and Olympic gold medalist turned television host, was recently diagnosed with stage I melanoma. Summer has no family history of skin cancer and always tanned easily, so she rarely applied sunscreen while swimming outdoors. Summer caught her skin cancer early, and she now monitors her skin very carefully.
Exposure to UV rays increases skin cancer risk
Regardless of your family history, the pigmentation of your skin or where you are from, swimming outside can increase your chances of sunburn and melanoma.
When UV rays damage the DNA of skin cells, melanoma can form when this damage affects skin cell growth. While melanoma is one of the less common skin cancers, it causes the majority of skin cancer deaths. Protect your skin from UV rays, and you’ll greatly reduce your risk for melanoma.
Tips to help protect your skin
- Swim early in the morning or late in the evening (the sun is the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.)
- Apply sunscreen 20-30 minutes before going outside/getting in the water
- Reapply sunscreen every 40-80 minutes while swimming
- Water-resistant sunscreen maintains SPF for 40 minutes
- Waterproof sunscreen lasts up to 80 minutes
- Reapply sunscreen after toweling off since the towel wipes off the sunscreen
- Wear UV-protective clothing
- Protect your scalp with a swim cap while swimming
Chlorine strips sunscreen
Sunscreen and clothing are some of the best barriers to the sun; however, chlorine strips away the UV-blocking properties of sunscreen, negating the benefits. According to a 2012 study published in the Chemical Engineering Journal, when chlorine has stripped the protective titanium dioxide nanoparticles from sunscreen, those particles generate free radicals when exposed to sunlight. Free radicals have been linked to oxidative stress, DNA damage and cancers.
Researchers found that this sunscreen stripping effect only happens when chlorine is present. Thus, my final tips to help protect your skin while swimming outside are:
- Swim in an ocean, lake, river
- Swim in a pool with a chlorine alternative sanitation system
- Swim indoors