Health / Expert Advice

Is It Safe to Work Out With a Sunburn?

A skin expert reveals when it is a good idea to take a rest day with a sunburn.

With only a few months of summer to enjoy, it’s kind of hard to say no to endless hours in the sun, whether you’re relaxing, working out with the Aaptiv app, or spending time with loved ones. Unfortunately, this comes with a price for many people, especially if you haven’t properly protected your skin before heading outdoors.

Sunburn is an evident reaction to the skin being exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation—this refers to the invisible rays that make up sunlight. Bear in mind that UV rays can also cause invisible damage to the skin.

During the long summer days, you may find yourself ignoring the clock and spending the bulk of your time outdoors when the UV rays are the strongest (between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.) and when the most damage can occur. Inna Knyazevych, esthetician at In-Glow Med Spa, says, “Suntan is a result of the body’s natural defense mechanism to repair the damage caused by overexposure to UV rays. Sunburn is a result of prolonged sun exposure and is mostly a first degree burn, but can be more serious and may require a doctor’s assessment.”

If you think that you might have overdone it and are not sure if you should work out, Knyazevych offers some guidance for dealing with a sunburn when it’s time to hit the gym.

How do you know if you have a sunburn?

Some obvious signs that you are suffering from a sunburn include:

“Typical sunburn appears red and inflamed,” says Knyazevych. She goes on to say that it can be tender and hot to the touch, so it’s important to cool down the body immediately. A few suggested remedies are a cold shower and a cold compress to help pull the heat out of the skin, as well as to decrease inflammation.

Is it okay to work out with a sunburn?

As much as you may want to squeeze in your regular workout, it can cause more harm than good when you are dealing with a sunburn. “Raising the body’s temperature can lead to overheating and sweat that can sting already irritated skin. Increased blood flow to the skin can aggravate certain skin conditions,” explains Knyazevych  She also points out that body heat and excessive sweating can cause the skin to lose its natural moisture, which can lead to major dehydration. An important tip is to drink a lot of water and use products with anti-inflammatory ingredients.

Another reason you may want to skip the gym is the damaging effect of UV rays on the immune system. Sunburns are often accompanied by cold sores. Cold sores are highly contagious and can be spread through the use of gym equipment simply by rubbing a lesion.

“Depending on the seriousness of the sunburn it is recommended to take a day or two off from working out,” shares Knyazevych.

What are the best treatments?

Time is often the best remedy, but if you are looking to speed up the healing process consider soothing serums with an Omega complex, aloe vera, chamomile, and bisabolol suggests Knyazevych. You will also want to add a nourishing lotion with shea and cocoa butter to help prevent peeling.

What are the best clothes to wear with a sunburn?

If you insist on hitting the gym for a light workout, stick to lightweight and loosely woven fabrics. (Also try to stay indoors because these options usually don’t offer much sun protection.) Making sure that your clothing is loose and absorbs moisture is essential in the healing stages, as you want to avoid sweaty skin with a sunburn. Wearing tight or non-breathable fabrics will encourage inflammation. Many workout clothes are made with polyester and rayon—again, this will encourage sweating and trap moisture on the already irritated skin. Choose cotton when working out because it’s a natural fiber that allows air to circulate freely throughout the fabric.

When socializing outside the gym, opt for Chambray, a sister cotton, that it is woven differently and also resembles denim. “Linen is the best choice when it comes to sunburnt, irritated, or simply sensitive skin. It offers excellent coolness and freshness, due to its loosely woven fabrics. It allows heat to escape from the body, absorbs moisture, and dries quickly,” explains Knyazevych.

If you insist on working out with Aaptiv while recuperating from a sunburn, it can be done—but, it might be best to listen to your body and hit the gym once you have fully healed.

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