For all the fun you can have in the sun, it also poses serious health risks to the skin and eyes. But you can play it safe by understanding the risks and taking simple precautions.
“One out of every five Americans will get a skin cancer,” says Dr. Thomas Rohrer of Skin Care Physicians in suburban Boston, “and someone dies every hour from melanoma. Who’s most as risk? Caucasian men.”
For the best sun protection, start with sunscreen. “Use SPF 50 or greater,” says Dr. Rohrer. “I suggest putting it on before you get to the course so that you don’t forget. Then reapply at the turn.” If you don’t like the greasy feeling on your hands, there are sprays and sticks, and sport sunscreens made to not run and get into your eyes.
Another reason to apply sunscreen before leaving home is protection while driving to the course. “In this country, we see more skin cancers on the left side of the face and arm,” says Rohrer. “In Britain, where they drive on the other side of the road, cancer is more common on the right side.”
Be sure to put sunscreen on often-overlooked areas like the ears (especially the tops), back of the neck, nose (which gets the most sun per square inch of any body part), and top of the head, where men have less hair.
Dr. Rohrer also suggests wearing a hat. “A visor doesn’t do anything but protect some of the forehead.” A baseball cap is okay; bucket hats, with brims all the way around, are better. The wider the brim—four inches gives a lot of protection—the better.
Consider wearing two gloves—“The hands are in the sun all the time and the skin is thin; we see a lot of skin cancers on hands”—as well as sun-protecting sleeves on the arms and legs.
And keep checking your skin for possible trouble. Look for what you think is a mole that changes in size, shape, or color. See a dermatologist whenever you have a little bump that won’t go away after a few months. Find more sun-protection tips on the website of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Eye protection starts with a hat. “A cap with a brim will protect somewhat from ultraviolet (UV) and violet rays and the brim will shield some of the sun,” explains Dr. Donald Tieg, founder and medical director of The A Team, a group of vision associates who focus on improving the visual system for performance in sports.
But it’s sunglasses that do the most good, particularly with lenses that offer 100% protection from UV. “UV rays are linked to the onset of cataracts and discoloring of the lens of the eye,” says Dr. Tieg, who also explains that these rays can bring on macular degeneration. All these problems have been exacerbated by the thinning of the ozone layer, which makes sunlight even more potent.
Just like with skin, people with more darkly pigmented eyes can better handle the sun. Those with lighter skin and lighter eye color also will be more sensitive to glare: They might want to consider mirrored lenses, which reflect glare away from the eye.
Different lens colors can affect your performance. “You don’t want to wear a tinted lens that will negatively affect the ability to read greens,” says Dr. Tieg, who is a golfer and conducts clinics with golf pros to improve visual acuity, especially when putting. “Usually neutral gray or bronze/amber lenses don’t distort other colors. Vermillion, a rose color, also doesn’t distort but it’s not great on a bright day. And you don’t want to wear a dark lens when it’s not bright sunshine as you won’t see as clearly.”
Another good choice is lenses made with melanin, the same pigment that gives skin and eyes their color. Synthetic melanin is added to lenses to block both UV and violet rays, and it does not distort colors. (Sundog and Greg Norman are among the golf-specific manufacturers that have offered melanin lenses.) In all cases, make sure you’re getting high-quality lenses. And don’t assume polarized lenses are better: “They distort the ability to read greens,” says Dr. Tieg.
Experiment to see which color lenses work for you. “Some tints create vibrancy, so when you look you can distinguish between different cuts of grass. If you have a tint, putting is so much easier.” But don’t confuse vibrancy with clarity, says Dr. Tieg: “Nothing beats the purity of the human eye with nothing in the way.”