Midweek Post for May 3, 2023 – Ride Essentials (Sunscreen)

Image by Amelia Cui from Pexels.com

With the days still a bit crisp and cool as we head into mid-May, eventually summer will take hold and we all be out riding without arm, knee, or leg warmers. That means our sun exposure will increase along with the chance for threats to our skin.

Those threats that we, as cyclists, are prone to encounter are sunburn or tanning. However, as seemingly good as that might make our appearance on the outside, these threats can evolve into wrinkles, premature aging, or even skin cancer. That’s why it’s essential to not only ride with sunscreen or apply it before you head out on your ride but to wear jerseys and bib shorts that protect you from the sun, especially if your skin is sensitive.

The Danger of Sunburns and Tanning for Cyclists

During the summer months, cyclists like to wear their tans as a badge of honor to show their healthy addiction to the activity they love. Again, while this may look good, tanned skin, as Road.CC points out an article about sun protection, is “a sign that the skin has been damaged and is trying to protect itself.”

In order to not get overly technical and scientific here, your skin contains melanin, which is a byproduct of melanocytes. When the skin is exposed to sunlight, it produces melanin to protect it from UV rays. As a result, our skin turns darker.

The harmful end result, though, is that the heavy sun exposure cyclists incur can cause wrinkles and premature aging. But, as already mentioned, skin cancer is the biggest potential threat. And as with any cancer, that can lead to death. In the U.K., a place not normally associated with being overly sunny, 100,000 cases are diagnosed annually.

Sun Exposure Where and When You Wouldn’t Expect

Image by Braxton Apana from Unsplash.com

Many cyclists falsely believe that exposed skin is the only place where they can get burned or tanned by the sun. Many cyclists also believe that if they are out for a ride on an overcast day during the late spring, summer, or early fall months, danger to sun exposure is minimized.

The truth of the matter is that cyclists or anyone who spends a significant amount of time outside are apt to get burned or tanned, even on an overcast day. So, what can you do to protect yourself from heavy sun exposure during the months of nice weather ahead?

You’re probably thinking I’m going to suggest something odd like just stay inside and ride the trainer or maybe find another activity? Absolutely not. Despite sun exposure dangers, I don’t plan to ever give up cycling because the positives outweigh the negatives and I love the sport. However, a little common sense can go a long way to make cycling safe and fun.

  • If you can, ride earlier in the day or later in the day. With the days getting longer as we head into the summer, riding earlier or later in the day before the sun reaches its full intensity is a smart choice, especially in the summer months. Plus, late-day summer riding is ideal as it will be cooler.
  • Wear a hat or thin head covering under your helmet. If your skin is sensitive to burning, wear thin arm covers, lite knee warmers, and a bandana (or something similar), especially if you are going to be out late morning and through the afternoon hours.
  • Wear SPF-Rated Cycling Apparel: The cycling industry is constantly updating the fabrics and materials it uses in its clothing to make it more breathable and cooler. While something like apparel with a UPF rating (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) might sound like a gimmick, it isn’t. Look for jerseys, bibs, etc., with zero transparency. Once again, check out Road.CC’s post for some examples of apparel made with a SPF rating.
  • Sunscreen: Put it on before you ride, even in the early morning before you start out. However, as you sweat, some sunscreens will wash away. Make sure to carry a small tube of it with you on your ride as you will most likely have to reapply it.
  • Wear good quality sunglasses. This is an important piece of equipment for cyclists. You want sunglasses that will not only protect your eyes from harmful UVs but also road debris. My suggestion here is don’t skimp on a cheap, off-the-shelf pair from your drugstore. Get something sport specific (I’ll talk more about sunglasses in another Ride Essentials post).

Types of Sunscreen and Where to Buy It

Image of Two Easy to Find Sunscreens

In the cycling community, certain brands denote high-caliber products. For instance, while Pinarello makes wonderful bikes, I wouldn’t count on them to make an equally stunning sunscreen. Plus, specific brands mean higher dollars at the checkout counter.

The truth is that as long as you use sunscreen that is SPF 30 or above, you’ll be fine. Make sure to also look for a sunscreen that is “Broad Spectrum.” It doesn’t matter what company makes it, they all offer the same thing. The two sunscreens pictured above are readily available at most retail chains.

Unfortunately, companies that market sunscreen are driven by the thought that more is better. Not the case when it comes to sunscreen. Anything above 30 SPF will not give you more protection from sun exposure, according to an expert at the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Last Thoughts

Thinking about sun protection if you’re a bicyclist is no joke. So, use some easily available remedies for this situation because who wants wrinkles, prematurely aged skin, or possible skin cancer. Cycling is supposed to help us get fit and look healthier, not look like a pair of old leather shoes.

Author: Doug McNamee

Freelance Content Writer, Travel Writer, Editor, and poet.

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