Golfers should be mindful of sun protection

Rory Sabbatini covers himself with an aerosol spray.

Golfers are at great risk from the sun. Skin damage from the sun can be treated but not reversed, and skin cancer is on the rise.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than 3.5 million cases diagnosed annually. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer, as stated in the Journal of the American Medical Association, but unofficial projections for golfers are much worse.

Simply put, if you aren’t taking care of your skin on the course, you likely will pay the price.

“Everybody needs to be smart,” said David Donatucci, the PGA’s director of fitness and performance. “As a golfer, you’re out in the sun for five hours. You need sunscreen. You need to reapply sunscreen. You need to drink water. You need to eat a little something. All these things need to become habits, and that’s the message we are spreading.”

Opinions are mixed on how fast Americans are grasping this message.

“When I came into this industry, I discovered that sunscreen was phenomenally important but most golfers weren’t using it,” said Don Overman, vice president of marketing for TanMan International (www.tanman.ca) and a keynote speaker at the 2010 PGA Merchandise Show. “Even today, there is a disdain among many golfers for sunscreen. Maybe it’s because all sunscreens used to be greasy, and golfers would get this stuff all over their hands and grips. But sunscreens are becoming more user-friendly.

“Golfers should wear it every time they play, regardless of conditions. Playing golf in cloudy conditions doesn’t protect you from UV rays. They come through the clouds.

“As I like to say, a tan to die for probably will kill you.”

In addition to large sunscreen manufacturers such as Coppertone, Neutrogena and Banana Boat, hundreds of small companies make or market sunscreens. Those who include golfers in their target audience often specialize in organic sunscreens.

“Our ingredients are names you can pronounce,” said Rick Sample, CEO of Soléo Organics.

Sunscreens fall broadly into two primary categories – absorbers and reflectors. The chemical absorbers, which should be applied 15 to 20 minutes before sun exposure, initiate chemical reactions that absorb UV radiation and prevent it from damaging the skin. The reflectors, normally containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, scatter UV radiation away from the skin.

The reflecting sunscreens often leave a faint white residue, making the absorbing sunscreens a better cosmetic choice. However, the reflectors have many advocates who are skeptical of the chemical reactions that accompany the absorbers.

“Zinc oxide is the best product for providing protection from both UV rays (UVA and UVB),” said Paul Fleming, managing director of Z Blok (www.zbloksun.com).

Fleming also criticized a fascination with high SPF (sun protection factor) sunscreens: “This country is SPF crazy. Trust me, anything over SPF 30 is a waste of money.”

In theory, higher SPF sunscreens offer better sun protection.

“Sunscreen is not required to prove in the U.S. that it actually protects you,” said Michael Russ, U.S. distributor for MelanSol (www.puresunscreen.com). “It is Europe that has led the movement for testing and proof of effectiveness.”

Russ also talked about skin cancer and dark-skinned golfers.

“The biggest myth is that African-Americans don’t need sunscreen,” he said. “I’m African-American, so I should know.”

Besides the common lotions, sunscreen also is available in spray form. Sun Pro-Tec Systems is placing spray stations at golf courses.

“You walk up to the unit, put in a dollar bill, and the 30-second timer starts,” said Chris Lotterhos, co-founder of Sun Pro-Tec (www.screenyobody.com). “It is not a lotion. It is alcohol-based, so it dries instantly. You don’t have to rub it in.”

Save your skin. Maybe save your life. Use sunscreen.

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