This is a guest post by Helen Crowley, who has only recently started playing tennis, but has already spent many hours on the court, documenting her discovery of the world of tennis on her blog 40ishlove. Helen is an almost 40 years old Brit that lives in a small town in Italy, enjoying active lifestyle and stylish sports clothing.
Before taking up tennis earlier this year I had spent the last few summers avoiding the sun as much as I could. The main reason was that my father passed away 5 years ago from skin cancer (malignant melanoma) and not only was I afraid of too much sun exposure (having a similar skin type to him), it also seemed somehow disrespectful to be enjoying what had ultimately taken his life. However, as you can imagine, it is difficult to play tennis in Italy in the summer and avoid the sun. Although I spent this last summer covering myself in SPF 50+ suntan lotion and wearing a visor at all times, I definitely exposed myself to too much sun, and I have the sun damage on my face and shoulders to prove it. I started the summer with very white legs (which the Italians at my tennis camp had lots of fun teasing me about!), and whilst I will admit to being pleased that they were somewhat tanned by the end of the summer, I was concerned at the same time that I had put my health at risk.
I really don’t want to have to stop playing tennis, and so I need to prepare myself better for next summer. I would also like to encourage all tennis players out there, recreational and professional, to take overexposure to the sun seriously. Don’t think that it is only sunbathers or those who use sun-beds who are at risk from the sun. As the dermatologist said, when my dad told him he was not at all a sun-worshipper and was only exposed to the sun during his years as a sailor: ‘the sun does not distinguish your hobbies’.
Here are 5 easy tips we can all do in order to protect our skin from the sun when playing tennis:
- Apply SPF 50+ water-resistant suntan lotion, and make sure we keep reapplying it, especially during a long training session/match.
- Wear white zinc sunblock, especially on our face (this probably makes you think of Pat Rafter, but it was also a look sported by Anna Kournikova some years ago). Some of the newer sunblocks actually don’t leave such a white residue, which means there is even less reason to avoid wearing it.
- Wear a sun-visor or cap to protect our face, and sunglasses to protect our eyes (there are now many types that are specifically designed to help enhance the performance of tennis players).
- When playing in the midday sun, wear sun protective clothing (such as UPF 30-50 tops and leggings). This would be the most difficult for me, given that I really suffer the heat and I like wearing tennis dresses and skirts, but I will at least make sure all of my clothing has sun protection.
- Play in the early morning or late afternoon/evening and avoid lessons/matches during the midday sun.
Given that the next Grand Slam will take place in the height of summer in Australia, a country that has one of the highest rates of skin cancer, I would like to encourage everyone going to watch the Grand Slam down-under to Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek & Slide! (i.e. slip on some sun-protective clothing, slop on some high protection sunscreen, slap on a broad-brimmed hat, seek shade and slide on sunglasses).
One WTA player who is an advocate of wearing sun protection is Maria Sharapova, who became co-owner of Supergoop!, a multi-functional skincare line that offers UV protection. However, there are still unfortunately many professional tennis players who don’t like to wear suntan lotion as they complain that it drips into their eyes, or makes their hands slippery after they have applied it. Hence, it would be great if the following ideas could be taken up in all tournaments to help further protect WTA and ATP players from sun damage:
- Tournament organisers could provide staff that would apply suntan lotion (or sunblock which is less likely to drip) to the players between sets (this is an idea by Spanish former player and coach Felix Mantilla, who was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2006 and now runs his own skin-cancer foundation in Barcelona).
- All clothing worn by players should be sun protective (UPF 30-50).
- Training sessions should be predominantly scheduled to early mornings or late evenings (though there will of course be occasions when players need to practice in the heat conditions under which they will play matches).
- Between play, during on-court interviews or award ceremonies, and other occasions when they are not playing, players should always be provided shade.
Do you have any more ideas on how we can protect ourselves and professional tennis players from overexposure to the sun? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
It always amazes me that the players don’t seem to worry about the amount of time they spend in the sun. Here in Australia most people are conscious of the skin cancer issue and make some effort to protect themselves when they are outside, and people like outdoor council workers have to wear long sleeves and hats.
Obviously tennis players don’t want to wear long sleeves when it is hot, but strong sunscreen can make your skin feel kind of gluggy and I can imagine that could be a distraction for some players, also it can get in your eyes when you are sweaty and then your eyes hurt.
Personally I don’t think players should be forced to play in the sun at all. It is also really hard sitting all day in the hot sun watching. The first time I ever went to live tennis at the Sydney open, I didn’t know to get a seat in the shade and it was very very hot. Now I always get seats in the shade but that means you are at the back. So I think at least in hot countries all the courts and all the spectator stands should be shaded. It gets around the problem of the sun getting in the players’ eyes too.
Thanks for the feedback and suggestions, CLT. I agree that more shade needs to be provided during the tournaments to both players and spectators, as well as all the staff, but this sounds quite difficult to implement as I suppose it would require roofs on all courts? Not allowing matches to take place in the middle of the day (say from 11am to 3pm) might be more feasible?
Helen, thank you for bringing up this important topic. It reminds us of the importance of sun protection during our recreational tennis practices, while pros have a much more difficult task, as there are numerous parameters in the equation. What is important is that we make our own choices, but informed choices, and sun protection must not be disregarded.
In another sport, the Asian women golfers to a tee wear white zinc sunblock on their faces. It is not as obvious as what Rafter and Kournikova look like in the picture, but more subtle and it blends in with their skin tone. Shanshan Feng of China and So Yeon Ryu of S. Korea are big advocates of skin protection. Plus many of the Asian golfers wear long pants and long sleeve tops to keep as little of their skin exposed to the sun. Korean golfer Sung Hyun Park wears the long sleeved Beanpole golfwear on the following site. This is why there are virtually no skin cancer issues in many of the Asian countries.
Jim, while Asian players in tennis are just as uncovered as other players. Efficient sun block and avoidance of direct sunlight when possible should definitely be priorities, while long sleeves should be incorporated if comfortable enough.