Sun protection tips for riders

Sun protection is an important consideration. While it’s nice to let the sun shine on your skin when riding your horse, take steps to prevent burns.

Healthy skin is essential to our appearance and overall well being. The skin absorbs medicines, chemicals and oils, and excretes perspiration, oils and odors (think about how eating a lot of garlic can make your sweat smell garlicky). Sun exposure affects your melatonin production at night to put you to sleep, while cortisol wakes you up in the morning. The skin also manufactures a very important hormone precursor from sunlight – vitamin D.

Balancing sun exposure

Sun exposure is a common skin concern these days. Many people wear sun protection products all the time, for fear of developing skin cancer. But we are discovering that some of the chemicals in sunscreen irritate the skin as they are absorbed into the body, perhaps actually increasing the risk of skin cancer. We have also discovered that vitamin D is very important for the bones, and is a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agent, especially for breast cancer. Vitamin D is possibly a mood enhancer as well; it’s thought that a deficiency contributes to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in northern climates. Wearing sunscreen blocks vitamin D production, and can therefore affect our health.

People in hot equatorial regions who have a siesta after their midday meal may have the right idea. It puts them under shade during the hottest part of the day. During the summer, I most enjoy the outdoors in the morning and evening, but prefer being inside at midday. I don’t burn before ten and after three, but in the middle of the day, watch out – I can burn in a parking lot if I am out too long.

Sun protection tips

1. Spend some daily time in the sun, before 10AM and after 3PM, without sun protection.
2. Supplement with 800 IU vitamin D each day, especially during the winter if you live in the north.
3. Keep well hydrated; drink lots of water with electrolytes.
4. Be as careful about what you put on your skin as what you eat and drink. Only use lotions, creams, oils and sunscreens that have ingredients safe to take into your body. Don’t put toxic chemicals or heavy metals on your skin.
5. Avoid sunburn in the middle of the day by wearing a hat and lightweight cotton shirts and pants, or by using a good herbal sunscreen (I like a herbal children’s 30 SPF sunscreen best).
6. Use a healing herbal salve on your skin every day. Desert plants like aloe and chaparral make marvelous treatments for sunburn or sun damage. Tests have shown that chaparral skin salve can even reverse some skin damage.

Dehydrated? Try this pinch test

Our skin can be an important indicator for dehydration. If it tents and wrinkles a lot, you are probably dehydrated. To check for tenting, pinch a large amount of skin on the back of your hand, let it go, and watch how fast it goes back down. If it happens very quickly you are hydrated. If it returns slowly, you are probably dehydrated. If your neck or hands are looking wrinkled, drink more water and electrolytes.

Don’t be afraid to let the sun shine gently on your skin. Just be sure it’s at the right time, and that you’re staying hydrated and using safe sun protection products!


Dr. Valeria Wyckoff is a naturopathic physician and registered dietitian with a practice in Chandler, Arizona. She is also a Radio Doctor with a weekly talk show ( broadcast in the Phoenix area and on the internet, Saturdays from 1:00 to 2:00 pm, Mountain Standard Time.