(Usta) -Athletes can have a lot of skin issues,” says Lisa P. Anthony, MD, a dermatologist at the Mount Sinai Health System and onsite physician at the US Open Tennis Championships. Throughout the event, Dr. Anthony treats everything from cuts and abrasions from a tumble on the concrete to frictional burns and skin infections. Then, of course, there is the sun.
“Players get a lot of sun exposure, which increases their risk for skin cancer,” says Dr. Anthony who is part of a team of Mount Sinai physicians and sports medicine experts who attend to players during the two-week tournament. “The usual recommendations that I give to my patients are to avoid peak sun hours which are between 10 am and 2 pm, seek shade, and wear sun protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. Unfortunately, that is not always possible for tennis players.”
Just as the world’s best players condition their bodies for performance, they must protect their skin year-round. In this Q & A, Dr. Anthony explains how professional and amateur players alike can guard their skin against the damage sustained when playing and practicing in the blazing sun.
Tennis players are typically playing and practicing outdoors during peak sun hours in clothing that provides little to no sun protection. What is the most important thing they can do to protect their skin?
They can seek shade when possible, but most importantly, use sunscreen. I recommend applying at least SPF 30. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect against ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB) which can cause sunburns, premature aging, and skin cancer.
It is also very important that players reapply sunscreen. They are sweating a lot and, in fact, sweating off the sunscreen. Sport sunscreens can work well for players because they are more water-resistant. This may help prevent a player’s sweat from causing sunscreen to run into their eyes, which can cause a burning sensation and hamper play.
So, should players be reapplying during a match?
Yes, maybe even every set. Reapplying is something that should be part of a player’s routine. Remember, a tan is a sign of damage and exposure to ultraviolet rays, which can increase the risk for skin cancer.
Since they are at risk, how often should avid outdoor tennis players have their skin checked?
An annual screening by a board-certified dermatologist is recommended for everyone and is especially important for individuals with a personal or family history of skin cancer or atypical moles. Tennis players, with their increased levels of sun exposure, should be checked at least yearly. Any concerning spots should be brought to a dermatologist immediately at any time.
What constitutes a ‘concerning spot’?
Anything new, changing, or irregular spot should be brought to the attention of a dermatologist. Often we summarize this as the ABCDE’s of melanoma:
- Asymmetry: one half of a mole is different than the other
- Border irregularity
- Change in color or multiple colors
- Diameter larger than six millimeters, or bigger than a pencil eraser
- Evolution: the appearance of the mole is changing over time
If any of the above is noted, players should make an appointment. Aside from skin cancer, any abrasion or open skin should be brought to a doctor to avoid infection.
How else can athletes protect themselves from the sun?
Reapply, reapply, reapply. The best and most effective way to protect skin is to make sunscreen part of your daily regimen.
Apart from that, eye protection should be considered. UV rays can also damage different parts of the eye and can even cause melanoma in the eye. Given that UV-protective sunglasses, hats, and visors can affect sight lines, players should just check in with an eye doctor annually to ensure increased sun exposure is not causing damage.