Sunscreen and triathlons – what you need to know

Sunburn is no laughing matter, especially during long-distance races. We look at how to prevent it

Triathlete racing in Abu Dhabi

Are you wondering whether applying ‘normal’ sunscreen is enough to keep you safe during a long-distance? Ruth Burnett, a GP specialising in sports medicine and a keen age-group triathlete, explains what to look out for…


There is no suncream that’ll survive the number of hours you’ll be exposed for an Ironman, especially considering the likely sweat factor. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t apply a high-quality, long-lasting, sport-specific variety that’s water- and sweat-resistant anyway. Aim to apply prior to racing, and again in T1 and T2.

Sunscreen is 50% gone in two hours and 100% gone in four, so if you’re particularly susceptible and concerned you should carry it with you and aim to reapply during the race. Most races have volunteers to apply it in transition for you, but don’t rely on this and make sure you have your own.

Remember that your scalp can burn through your cycling helmet so don’t forget to apply suncream to your head. Most athletes utilise visors or caps to protect their face and head on the run, as well as long sleeves on the bike and run if required to protect their arms.

An associated problem is heat stroke so it’s crucial to take measures to avoid this. Wearing light coloured wicking clothing to reflect rather than absorb the sun and draw sweat off you, drinking plenty, replacing lost electrolytes, and using ice/wet sponges where available to keep you cool are all essential.

It’s really important to research and plan your fluid and fuelling strategies carefully when racing long-distance, and it’s just as important to ensure you don’t take on too much fluid as it is to ensure you take on enough fluid and salt to replace the losses.

When planning to race in the heat, it’s always a good idea to acclimatise beforehand if at all possible. While training in a hot steamy bathroom has been used and will help you cope with heat and humidity, if you can get out there beforehand to get both your body and your skin accustomed to the sun, it’ll help protect you on the day.

(Main image: José Luis Hourcade)


For lots more advice, head to our Training section