Keep Your Skin In The Game

Justin Rose of England applies sunscreen to his face approaching the 6th tee during the first round of the British Open Golf Championship at Muirfield, Scotland, Thursday July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

What started out as business talk show jargon, “you have to have skin in the game” has infiltrated the golf domain.  Before a round, it’s a nice way of stating the need to put up some money to ensure investment in your performance.  But in the literal sense you need  actual skin to play the game, so protecting it is critical.

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What are we exactly protecting our skin from?  UVA and UVB rays from the sun.  UVB rays cause the sunburn we all dread.  UVA rays penetrate deeper in the skin and cause your wrinkles, loose skin, and dark spots.  Both UVA and UVB can cause DNA damage leading to skin cancer.  According to the American Cancer Society, the most common skin cancers and associated cases per year are:

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma – 3.6 million
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma – 1.08 million
  • Melanoma – 99,800

As you can see, basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer.  While it rarely spreads to other parts of the body, left untreated it can grow very large.  Catching it early limits the amount of surgery required to remove the cancer.  I’ve had surgery on four different sites on my back and trust me, it’s no fun.  Running around with no shirt all summer as a teenager seemed righteous at the time but sure has consequences as you age.

Although typically not life threatening, squamous cell carcinomas grow deeper over time and can spread to other parts of the body.  And deeper growth means a bigger scalpel.

Melanoma is the cancer diagnosis you don’t want to hear from your doctor and is life threatening.  Melanoma affects the lymph nodes and other organs and requires aggressive treatment, but survival rate runs close to 98% if detected early.  So if you golf or routinely spend time outdoors, get checked out.  The Skin Cancer Foundation is a great resource to learn what skin cancers look like.

The easiest and most obvious way to keep the harmful UV rays of the sun from your skin is coverage.  I haven’t found a course that doesn’t require at a minimum shorts, shirt, and shoes.  And if there is a nudist course out there, save your comments, I don’t need to know about it.  But please take one step beyond minimum and add a hat.  And the further south you live the more you need a full broad rimmed hat.  Don’t think basic coverage makes a difference?  You can actually see the variations of tan based on the material thickness of Stewart Cink’s hat in this picture.

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To protect your exposed skin you need sunscreen or sunblock.  Those terms are used interchangeably among consumers but there is an actual difference.  Sunscreen is a chemical block.   The chemicals coat your skin and absorb the damaging ultraviolet rays. Most of what you see on the chain grocery and pharmacy shelves is sunscreen. Avobenzene and oxybenzone are common ingredients but there are many more with equally strange chemical names.  Here’s Rory spraying on a popular brand of sunscreen and demonstrating an important safety tip: eyes and mouth closed.

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Sunblock is a physical block and reflects damaging rays.  Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are common mineral based ingredients.  Since you are a golf fanatic, when you hear those words the lifeguard in Caddyshack probably pops into your head and now you’re day dreaming about synchronized swimming and doody.  Go ahead and take a moment.

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Now, back to protecting your skin.  Modern science allows those mineral based ingredients to be mixed with chemicals to give us some great hybrid products.  But to add to the name confusion, they are grouped into the sunscreen pool.    With their great array of options, I’ve really come to like Oars + Alps.

The good news is both sunscreen and sunblock are equally effective at the same SPF number.  That’s right SPF=SPF between all brands and types.  The one thing you have to keep in mind is timing.  Sunscreens need 20 minutes or so to become effective.  Sunblock is instant.  For either product, I recommend applying at home before heading to the golf course so you won’t get distracted and forget.  And don’t be fooled by clouds – 80% of UV rays make it through them.

To guarantee your arms stay protected no matter how long the round lasts, I enjoy wearing arm sleeves.  Sleeves like Storyi above are made from performance fabrics that wick away sweat, offering a cooling affect.  I like the bonus of pulling them off and having clean arms for enjoying a cold beverage post round.

A few more facts and figures:

  • 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer in their lifetime
  • That figure moves to 1 in 3 for Caucasians
  • 1 person an hour will die of skin cancer this year
  • Having 5 sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma cancer

Let’s also not forget about protecting our eyes.  There’s another villain for the eye beyond UV rays:  high-energy visible (HEV) radiation also known as blue light.  On the light spectrum HEV lies between visible and UV light.  Extended exposure to UV and HEV rays can cause cataracts and macular degeneration.  To protect your eyes wear good quality sunglasses that offer 100% UV blockage and blue light reduction.  My favorite brand for golfing is Revo [reviews HERE] with their wonderful selection of frames and lenses.

If you are reading this, you are obviously smart and love golf.  So take a few minutes and protect yourself from skin cancer every time you tee it up.  You may not like wagering, but proper sun protection is a sure bet.

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Matt Meeker

Matt lives in sunny Orlando with his wife who allows his golf obsession to stretch the limits of normalcy. He's also a proud coach with The First Tee of Central Florida who loves teaching kids about golf and life skills.

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3 Comments

  1. Jim Farrell

    Where do you purchase this product now? I have used it for years and bought online direct, their website is no longer up? Thank you.

  2. Thanks Matt, I didn’t catch your reply right away.

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