Ultraviolet Radiation and the Athlete: Risk, Sun Safety, and Barriers to Implementation of Protective Strategies

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Ultraviolet (UV) radiation plays a pivotal role in the development of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Numerous factors potentially place athletes at high risk for developing these cancers. Various prevention strategies ameliorate this risk, including avoiding sun exposure during peak UV exposure hours, applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or above before participating in outdoor sports, wearing hats and sunglasses, and reducing exposure with long pants and long-sleeve shirts. The literature, however, cites several barriers to these prevention approaches, including sports’ competition rules, the lack of availability of sunscreen, and the lack of information about sun safety behaviors. Sun safety education programs prove effective in getting athletes to participate in prevention strategies. This article reviews the effect of UV radiation on athletes’ skin and provides sports medicine clinicians with suggestions to improve the sun safety behaviors of their athletes.

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