These derm-approved products protect against UV damage and pollution—and prevent early signs of aging.
What's "Race Face"?
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Running has incredible benefits—from improving mental and physical health to zapping stress and anxiety. But it can wreak havoc on your skin, causing what's known as the cringe-worthy "race face." In a nutshell: looking older due to running. For a more technical rundown, Michael H. Gold, M.D., a dermatologist based in Nashville, TN, explains it this way: "'Race face" can be caused by the frequent exposure to both UVA and UVB rays.
"When exposed to these damaging rays, skin will lose elasticity, volume, and often develop into hardened leather-like skin," he says. "The root cause of this reaction is due to free radicals damaging the skin's barrier function. Free radicals are molecules that break down the skin's DNA and cell membranes, causing damage to the skin." (Related: How to Protect Your Skin from Free Radical Damage)
Photo: Matthew Leete / Getty Images
Why Are Runners More Susceptible to Skin Damage?
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First off, runners often spend long periods of time in the elements—exposed to both the sun and those damaging pollutants. But runners might be more susceptible to advanced aging because "people with less body fat will have facial lipoatrophy (loss of fat tissue)," explains Mary Lupo, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine. While this might be the case for elite runners rather than everyday athletes, being fit can make face fat loss accelerate—which can lead you to look older than you really are.
And while Dr. Lupo suggests running inside for optimal skin care, for many it's not an option (treadmill fatigue is real). "If you love outdoors, consider locations with a generous tree canopy and park/wilderness setting to decrease both sun exposure and exposure to vehicle emissions in an urban setting," she advises. And if you're going to run outside (raises hand!), she suggests using antioxidants, plus oral, topical, and substantive sunscreens that will last through the sweat and weather.
Check out 10 of the best beauty products to combat runner's face, according to dermatologists.
Photo: Getty Images / Imran Kadir Photography
SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic
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Runners will often put the most thought into applying SPF to the skin before heading out for a run, which is great for protecting against sun damage. "However, most runners overlook the importance of a powerful vitamin C and antioxidant. CE Ferulic is the perfect blend of a high-powered daytime vitamin C serum, as well as ferulic acid to fight against free radicals that can cause damage to the skin," Dr. Gold explains. In other words, it will not only brighten the skin, but improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. "CE Ferulic should be applied at least 15 minutes before heading out for a run because once this product is absorbed into the skin, the vitamin C will remain effective for the next 72 hours."
EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50
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Of course, following up your serum with a sunscreen is key. Dr. Gold recommends applying EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 before leaving the house for an outdoor run. "It has your UVA/UVB protection that will not sweat or rinse off easily as it's specifically formulated for active lifestyles; the added low amount of beeswax in this product is the key ingredient to help make this possible."
La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 AOX Daily Antioxidant Face Serum SPF 50
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If you want to get a two-punch in one lightweight product, look no futher. This serum delivers antioxidants and sunscreen (to provide broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection) in one convenient bottle to help combat free radical damage, says Diane S. Berson, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. In addition to covering you from future damage, it will also improve fine lines and dark spots for immediate anti-aging benefits.
Photo: La Roche-Posay
COOLA Mineral Liplux Organic Tinted Lip Balm Sunscreen SPF 30
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COOLA has created a lip balm that covers all your bases—soothing organic cupuaçu butter and mongongo oil keep lips über-moisturized while also preventing dreaded lip sunburn with SPF. Plus, the petite size is ideal for tucking into your sports bra. "It has an especially rich, creamy feel, it's thick enough to stay on and work as a wind barrier through a race, it has a full SPF 30 which is hard to find in lip products, *and* it has a pop of color for an automatically finished look on race day!" says dermatologist, Jessica Krant, M.D.
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If you're looking to revamp your skin-care routine, consider this line of products made specifically for women who exercise. Included is an ultra-light moisturizer with SPF 30, a hydrating cleanser, and a replenishing serum to improve skin's elasticity—all made to treat sweat-induced skin conditions like dehydration, redness, breakouts, and premature aging. They're also the ideal size for your gym bag.
SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2
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Let's be honest: The elements can make skin feel rugged after a good run, so it's important to find products that restore and replenish. Dr. Berson recommends SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 for post-run care. FYI, those said lipids are the skin's natural cholesterol, ceramides, and fatty acids that work to restore a bouncy elasticity and hydration cycles—often lost when exposed to harsh conditions. There's also vitamin E and essential oils to soothe and comfort the skin.
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Derms (and skin cancer surgeons) recommend the antioxidant dietary supplement Heliocare to help fight against sun-related damage and aging. The natural product is derived from fern extract, which can protect from pigmentation and skin cancer. Docs recommend patients take it every day just as a multivitamin, and pop one or two extra for prolonged sun exposure—like a long training run or marathon. Just note, it's a supplement to sunscreen, not a replacement for it. (Because yes, "sunscreen pills" really are a sham.)
Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-On Sunscreen SPF 30
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This genius product is one part weightless powder and one-part long-lasting SPF 30 sun protection, which is why Dr. Berson recommends clients apply it daily over their sunscreen for added protection and a touch of matte coverage. It's compact and absorbs sweat (rather than smearing it around your face), making it optimal for re-application during a long run.
Shiseido Clear Stick UV Protector WetForce Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 50+
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Throw this super-convenient product in your pocket, lace up your sneakers, and head out the door. This clear sunscreen stick is formulated with WetForce technology that provides the skin with a protective veil that becomes stronger as it meets water or perspiration—perfect for runners. Since it isn't heavy, it's ideal for around the lips and eyes, Dr. Berson says. Bonus: "The stick is about a half-ounce, so put it on your face and take it with you on a long run."
Colorescience Even Up Clinical Pigment Perfector SPF 50
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Loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and mineral-based sunscreen, this hydrating primer provides broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection that acts as a shield, protecting skin from sun damage and environmental pollution. Dr. Krant says that it's her favorite face protection for runners because it hits every issue: "It's water-resistant, tinted for physical protection against melasma and pigmentation, SPF 50+ for protection against skin cancer and wrinkles, and thick, so it stays put even when sweating—and serves as a wind blocker too, for running on cold days."