Save your skin

Running is both your skin's best friend (that healthy glow) and its worst enemy (sun damage, sweat-induced acne). Here’s how to keep it safe, healthy and well cared for.

Outsmart the sun

An Archives of Dermatology study found marathon runners may have an increased risk of skin cancer.

Of course, you could run after dark or indoors to avoid sun exposure. But it’s more practical (and less boring) to be consistent about applying sunscreen to vulnerable areas, says dermatologist Dr Elizabeth Hale.

"I see a lot of runners with squamous cell carcinoma [a kind of skin cancer], which typically occurs on hands, neck and ear tips," she says.

Protect yourself: Be diligent about sun protection. Look for an oil-free product that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. A hat and sunglasses add extra protection, as do commonsense measures such as avoiding runs at noon.

Picture credit: Getty Images.

Feet of strength

Runners tend not to have pretty feet, thanks to blisters, calluses and fungus. You're battling the twin enemies of moisture and friction.

"Blisters pop up with what's called fast friction," says podiatrist Gary Pichney. "Slow friction – rubbing in the same spot over time – builds calluses."

Meanwhile trapped moisture (such as between the toes) can cause maceration, where the skin looks paler and is prone to fungal infections.

Protect yourself: Polypropylene or wool socks wick away moisture, and you can use talc to prevent moisture-triggered fungus attacks. To prevent blisters, you could try doubling up on socks or investing in a pair of Twin Skins (see our Toolkit on slide 5).

A dab of Vaseline on blister-prone hotspots may also help. After your run, air your feet and treat popped blisters with a dab of TCP. Gently soften calluses with a pumice; if you can see a dark bruise underneath, this could indicate a wound or infection – so see your doctor or podiatrist.

Spot the difference

Exercise increases circulation, which can keep skin clear. But for women, running so much that it interferes with your period (amenorrhea) can trigger acne, explains Hale, because the hormonal balance shifts (more of the male hormone androgen, less oestrogen).

And for many runners, male and female, acne happens when bacteria naturally present on the skin gets trapped in pores by sebum and sweat. Folliculitis, another form of acne, is caused by the same combo that in this case infects hair follicles, causing a crop of red bumps.

Protect yourself: If your menstrual cycle is disrupted, visit your doctor: you may be low on oestrogen and potentially endangering your bones. To keep the skin generally spot-free, "if you're unable to wash right away, use wipes, or at least change clothes," says Hale. 

Work of friction

It's your old friend friction again. Skin rubbing on skin or coming in contact with loose or ill-fitting clothing can lead to rashes and even infection, says Hale. Chafing is most common under upper arms, beneath breasts, between thighs or, for men, on nipples. Moisture, from sweat or rain, makes it worse.

Protect yourself: An anti-chafing stick or simple Vaseline provides a protective barrier. Be sure clothing fits snugly but doesn't dig, is made of a wicking material and doesn't have irritating seams. Post-chafing, use BodyGlide or Vaseline to protect and soothe.

The Skin Toolkit

Pack these skin-savers in your kitbag:

Double layered socks
Hilly Twin Skins Blister-Prevention Socks (£11)

Sweatproof sunscreen
Ultrasun Water-Resistant Gel Formula (£15 for 125ml)

Portable wipes
Wemmi Expandable Wipes (£1.95 for 4)

Anti-chafing stick
BodyGlide Anti-Chafe (£7.99 for 12.8g)

Blister aid
Savlon Blister Plasters with Tea Tree Oil (£3.67 for 5)