By Laurel-Lea Shannon
To stay healthy, cyclists need to eat well, get enough rest and protect their skin from the sun. If you spend long hours in the saddle, you get your tan lines early in the season, and by mid-summer you’ve probably already soaked up plenty of rays—maybe too many.
There are a lot of ways to protect your skin. Fortunately, sunscreen products are becoming safer and more effective. And cycling manufacturers are making jerseys, shorts, cycling caps, sun sleeves and sun leg covers available in SPF 50+ fabrics. Here are a few tips and products that can help you protect your skin from the sun.
- Cycle in the early morning (before 10 am) or late afternoon (after 4 pm) and early evening. The sun’s rays aren’t as direct at those times, and are less damaging to your skin.
- Use a sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection (both UVA and UVB rays) and apply it frequently on long rides—remember your ears and nose, and apply an SPF lip balm to protect your lips.I bought a travel bottle set from the dollar store and carry a tiny plastic container of sunscreen in the small food pouch on my top bar. That makes it easy to reapply sunscreen when I need to. I keep my SPF lip balm there too.
This article, Cycling: Protect Your Skin, explains how to tell a good sunscreen from a bad one. At the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website, you can find out how safe your sunscreen is. (The lower the rating, i.e. 1, the better the product.)
- Wear jerseys and shorts with SPF 50+ fabric. The sun’s rays can also penetrate clothing. Cycling manufacturers take sun protection seriously. If you do long rides, invest in jerseys and shorts made with SPF 50+ fabric, like this jersey from Specialized, and these shorts from Pearl iZUMi.
- Wear white sun sleeves to protect your arms from the sun. Since there’s no evidence that sunscreen protects the deeper layers of your skin, or prevents skin cancer, I prefer to cover up when I’m on long rides. These sun sleeves from Specialized do the job well. Made from lightweight hydrophobic polyester, they keep you dry and cool. Expecting them to be warm, I was surprised how cool they kept my arms.
Many places in Canada and the US have had an unusually hot summer. To beat the heat, I start my rides early in the morning with the sun sleeves in my back pocket and put them on after a couple of hours, for the ride home.
- Wear sunglasses with UV protection. Invest in a pair of wraparound sun glasses that protect your eyes no matter what angle the sun is at.
- Wear a helmet with a visor to help keep the sun off your face. Or you can wear an SPF 50+ form-fitting cycling cap under your helmet that will protect your scalp from the sun and also prevent sweat from running down into your eyes.
For optimal sun protection, wear sun leg covers. Like the white sun sleeves, they keep you cool while providing complete protection from the sun. Don’t like tan lines? These sun leg covers from Specialized will solve that problem. A silicone leg gripper holds the covers in place. Right- and left-leg-specific, the covers have a mesh panel behind the contoured knee that provide added ventilation.
- During other off-bike summer activities, wear an SPF 50+ cycling cap with a long bill to protect your scalp and face from the sun.
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