Skin and Sports

What You Need


  • Poster paper
  • Colored pencils, crayons, or markers
  • Scissors
Skin and Sports


To explore the effects of physical activity on your skin and understand how to protect your skin when participating in sports.


This lesson is part of the Skin Deep Project, which examines the science behind skin. Skin Deep is developed by AAAS and funded by Neutrogena. For more lessons, activities, and interactives that take a closer look at the science behind skin, be sure to check out the Skin Deep Project page.

In this lesson, students learn about the importance of proper protection from common skin conditions when they engage in sports-related activities. The resource below provides a more in-depth description of the kinds of skin conditions that athletes face. Keep in mind that the photos and difficulty level of the resource may be inappropriate for middle-school students.

Research shows that students at this level should build upon their previous knowledge of the healthy functioning of the human body and ways it may be promoted or disrupted by diet, lifestyle, bacteria, and viruses. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 143.) They already should understand that to stay in good operating condition, the human body requires a variety of foods and experiences. Regular exercise, therefore, is important for maintaining a healthy heart/lung system, for maintaining muscle tone, and for keeping bones from becoming brittle.

Students will benefit from reinforcing the concept that good health also depends on the avoidance of excessive exposure to substances that interfere with the body's operation. This lesson draws attention to fact that the body's own first line of defense against infectious agents is to keep them from entering or settling in the body. The body's protective mechanisms include skin to block infectious agents, tears and saliva to carry them out, and stomach and vaginal secretions to kill them. Related means of protecting against invasive organisms include keeping the skin clean, eating properly, avoiding contaminated foods and liquids, and generally avoiding needless exposure to disease. (Science for All Americans, pp. 80-82.)

While teaching, keep in mind that research shows that students at this level have a number of misconceptions about the human organism and physical health. Students of all ages tend to believe that many factors they consider important to their health and life span are also beyond their personal control. After instruction, middle-school students appear to have accurate knowledge about nutrition and physical fitness, but they often are unable to explain their knowledge in scientific terms. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, pp. 345-46.)

Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these health education standards:

  • Health Education Standard 1:
    Students will comprehend concepts related to health promotion and disease prevention.

    1. explain the relationship between positive health behaviors and the prevention of injury, illness, disease, and premature death.
    8. describe how lifestyle, pathogens, family history, and other risk factors are related to the cause or prevention of disease and other health problems.

  • Health Education Standard 2:
    Students will demonstrate the ability to access valid health information and health-promoting products and service.
    1. analyze the validity of health information, products, and services.
    2. demonstrate the ability to utilize resources from home, school, and community that provide valid health information.

  • Health Education Standard 3:
    Students will demonstrate the ability to practice health-enhancing behaviors and reduce health risks.

    1. explain the importance of assuming responsibility for personal health behaviors.
    4. demonstrate strategies to improve or maintain personal and family health.

  • Health Education Standard 4:
    Students will demonstrate the ability to use goal-setting and decision-making skills to enhance health.

    1. demonstrate the ability to apply a decision-making process to health issues and problems individually and collaboratively.
    4. apply strategies and skills needed to attain personal health goals.


Start the lesson by asking students to imagine that their skin suddenly disappeared. Ask one student to begin a story about what life without skin would be like. Then have other class members add details and offer suggestions about what changes they would have to make in their habits and activities. Make sure they understand how important the skin is in protecting their bodies and keeping them healthy.

Continue the discussion by having students consider how their skin needs protecting while participating in sports. Encourage them to talk about things that could happen to their skin, including sunburn, bruises, scrapes, cuts, and dryness.

Here are some questions that can be used to guide this discussion:

  • What kinds of sports, if any, do you participate in?
  • What happens to your skin while you are engaged in indoor sports? Outdoor sports?
  • What skin conditions can be a problem when playing sports?
  • How can you protect your skin while playing sports?

    (Accept all reasonable answers. Encourage students to elaborate on their responses.)



Next, have students explore more about how sports can affect their skin and how to protect it.

Divide the class into five groups and assign each group a sport—football, running, skiing, swimming, or tennis. Explain that each group will fill out a Skin and Sports Trainer student sheet for their sport, which informs participants about how to protect their skin. They can do this by reading and discussing the information in the Play to Win for Healthy Skin resource, which has many tips that apply to their sport. Have them use their Skin and Sports student esheet to access this online resource.

After they have completed this activity, ask a volunteer from each group to present its sport’s Dos and Don'ts to the class. After each presentation, lead a class discussion about any tips they would add or delete. Completed student sheets should include the following information, with Dos and Don’ts drawn from the appropriate harmful source categories:


      —moisture, friction, sun, injury; athlete’s foot, rashes, infections, blisters, sunburn, cuts/scrapes/bruises; no equipment hazards


      —mositure, friction, sun, cold, injury; athlete’s foot, rashes, blisters, sunburn, frostbite, cuts/scrapes/bruises; shoes


      —moisture, friction, sun, cold, injury; athlete’s foot, rashes, blisters, sunburn, frostbite, cuts/scrapes/bruises; ski poles


      —friction, sun, water; rashes, sunburn, dry skin, discolored hair; no equipment hazards


    —moisture, friction, sun, injury; athlete’s foot, rashes, blisters, sunburn, cuts/scrapes/bruises; tennis racquet


Divide the class into pairs. Direct the pairs to create a brochure or poster focused on a sport other than the five the class already investigated. The brochures or posters should cover the potential risks the sport poses to healthy skin and ways to avoid them. Display the posters and brochures on the bulletin board for the class to discuss and enjoy.


Encourage students to read Chiggers, poison ivy and other summer skin irritants, which details some of the most common summer skin ailments, and how to avoid and treat them.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards