Common Mistakes Runners Make With Their Skin

runners skin

When I head out for a run, my legs get the glory and my lungs get the workout, but more often than not, my skin just gets abused.

Several years ago, I ran the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota. It’s a point-to-point course with the sun at your back the entire way.

I put on sunscreen (I swear!), but by the time I finished, my back and the back of my legs were beet red with a blistering sunburn. My front was untouched. I had a stripe down my side where the two met.

It was not a good look.

Don’t Take Your Skin For Granted

It’s easy to be concerned about the damage you might do to your joints when heading out for a run. You likely (hopefully) stretch, get and wear the right gear to stay happy and healthy.

But many runners don’t give a second thought to the damage they may do to their skin while running.

Running and Your Skin: Common Mistakes

runners skin

Sunscreen, Sunscreen, Sunscreen!

Have it, wear it, re-apply it often.

In this day and age, there is no excuse to not use sunscreen. There are dozens of formulations in every consistency and ingredient combination.

Regular, all-natural, vegan, stick, spray, lotion, the options are endless.

Sunscreen Mistake #1: Not Applying

The biggest (and most easily fixed) problem runners have with sunscreen is that they don’t apply it.

The easy fix: apply it!

I’ve heard every excuse in the book for not wearing sunscreen. It runs, it gets in my eyes, it wears off too quickly, it’s too smelly, and on and on and on.

Try different formulas and consistencies until you find one that works for you, I promise you there is one.

You can also try different options for different parts of your body. I use Banana Boat Sport for my body, but it can run into my eyes, so I use a Neutrogena stick for my face.

Cloudy day? You still must put on sunscreen! I’ve learned this one first hand- you can get (and I’ve gotten) sunburnt on an overcast day.

Sunscreen Mistake #2: Not Re-Applying

No sunscreen lasts forever.

Get a little tube to carry with you for reapplication. Stick sunscreens work really well for this.

Yes, it’s annoying to carry sunscreen and reapply mid-run, but if you are going to be out for hours (summer marathon training long runs, I’m looking at you), even the best sunscreens can’t manage that with one application.

Sunscreen Mistake #3: Incomplete (or Insufficient) Application

When heading out, experts say you should apply about a shot glass worth of sunscreen. To put that in perspective, on a long beach weekend, you should easily go through a full bottle of sunscreen.

If your bottle of sunscreen reaches its first birthday, you aren’t applying enough.

Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the forgotten parts of your body. I am notorious for burning my scalp in the few runs I do when I don’t wear a hat.

It’s also easy to overlook the tops of your ears and your lips.

They need sunscreen love too.

Sunscreen Mistake #4 Relying On Sunscreen Alone

Sunscreen is great, and you should always wear it (and re-apply it), but it isn’t the only tool available to protect your skin.

Running-friendly hats and clothing now come infused with SPF material for skin and sun protection.

Sunglasses are another great source of sun protection. I have looked for years to find a pair of sunglasses that don’t fog up. So far I’m 100% foggy, but I’m still determined to find a great pair (recommendations encouraged if you have one).

Staying in Wet Clothes

When you finish a long, sweaty run you may be tempted to stay in your running gear while you grab a post-run coffee or brunch with friends.

But staying in your sweaty, wet clothes can cause infections, pore blockages and other nasty stuff that can cause backne and those super annoying butt pimples.

Shower and get out of your sweaty running clothes ASAP.

If you are going to do errands or coffee immediately post-run, bring a change of clothes and baby wipes as a temporary measure.

Personally, I channel my inner-Clark Kent/Superman and practice the art of the backseat post-run clothing change, but another great option is to get a flowy maxi dress, skirt or swimsuit coverup. They are fashionable and serve as personal post-run mini-tent and changing room.

Fun With Blisters

Our poor feet sure can suffer. Good socks and using an anti-blister cream can minimize the chances of getting blisters, but they likely will still occasionally happen.

If you get a blister, the current advice is that it is OK to pop the blister with a needle that has been sanitized with rubbing alcohol (apparently the needle and match trick I learned growing up isn’t helpful to sterilize the needle).

Drain the liquid from the blister, but keep the skin of the blister in place. The skin cover will protect the tender skin underneath.

Cover the popped blister with a band-aid while it heals.

EEK! Chafing!

Ah, distance running. Chafing parts of your body you didn’t know you had.

Prevention is the watchword with chafing. Wear seamless clothing and be generous with the body glide or other lubrication product of choice.

Men, I’ve been told nipple protection is a necessity for you (thankfully, the one body trauma us girls don’t need to worry about).

Read More: 

Sweating While Tattooed

This isn’t a thing to do, but instead a thing to be aware of.

I’ve read a number of articles lately about how having tattoos can impact how and how much you sweat. I won’t pretend to know enough about it to offer advice, but if you are tattooed and you run, this is an area you may want to learn more about.


What running skin mistakes have you made?
Any other prevention advice?

Runners and skin

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