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How to look after your skin when the weather turns sunny

The sun has got his hat on! And so should you, as part of stopping yourself getting early season sunburn.

Getting out in Spring sunshine is one of the glories of cycling. But because it’s still cool, it’s easy to forget that the sun starts to get teeth at this time of year, and a long day on the bike gives it plenty of time to chew your exposed skin.

Sunburn is no fun. Your skin ends up red and sore. In extreme cases it can even blister. After a few days it peels and can itch like like hell.

Froome sunburn

Froome sunburn

Chris Froome probably wished he'd worn  sunscreen under a mesh shirt when he posted this pic

As well as the short-term discomfort, sunburn now can lead to skin cancer later in life. In its most aggressive form, melanoma, skin cancer can quickly spread and become life-threatening. According to Cancer Research UK a history of severe sunburns doubles your risk of melanoma, and the incidence has been rising for the last few decades as people take more holidays in hot, sunny countries.

Sunburn is caused by the short-wavelength, high-energy ultra-violet (UV) light in sunshine. The burn itself is caused by short-wavelength UVB rays, but UVA can cause skin damage too, so you want a sunscreen that blocks both.

I lived in Australia for several years, a country full of pasty white people that has a big problem with the consequences of excessive sun exposure. Public health campaigns have had some effect in changing people’s behaviour, especially the classic “slip, slap, slop”:

  • Slip on a shirt
  • Slap on a hat
  • Slop on some sunscreen

It’s good advice even if you don’t live somewhere the sun can fry you in mere minutes. Australia’s Cancer Council has added two more bits of alliterative advice: Slide on sunglasses; and seek shade.

Staying in the shade isn’t very practical if you’re riding a bike, but let’s look at how to best carry out the other four.

It’s worth pointing out that these precautions are especially important if you have pale skin, red hair, lots of moles or freckles or are one of those unfortunate folks who always or usually burns rather than tans. But you should still take precautions even if you have dark hair, brown eyes and usually tan, because it’s easy to be out on the bike for long enough to burn if the weather’s good.

Slip on a shirt

Sugoi La Tournee Jersey - on bike

Sugoi La Tournee Jersey - on bike

Or any other sun-protective clothing. Many cycling shirts are now rated for their Sun Protection Factor (SPF), in the same way as suncreams. Cycling shorts are usually similarly opaque unless they’re very old and worn, in which case you should think about the view you’re inflicting on your riding companions and bin them.

It’s traditional to ditch sleeves and leg coverings at the first hint of good weather, but if it’s still cool enough for arm and leg warmers, you should carry on wearing them. You can get lightweight warmers specifically designed for sun protection, or wear Lycra tights or three-quarters to protect the tops of your knees.

>>Read more: The best summer cycling jerseys
>>Read more: Cycling jerseys — everything you need to know
>>Read more: The best cheap cycling jerseys

Slap on a hat

This Is Cambridge “Panache” Cycling Cap

This Is Cambridge “Panache” Cycling Cap

Tricky, this one. On any sort of drop-bar bike you’re not going to be able to easily keep on the sort of wide-brimmed hat the Aussies have in mind. A traditional cycling cap, on its own or under a helmet, provides a bit of protection especially if you’re not well-thatched. The shade from a peak, on either cap or helmet, will help keep the sun off your face, but you’ll still need sunscreen.

>>Read more: All reviews of cycling headwear

Slop on sunscreen

Suncream should have an SPF of at least 30, and preferably 50. In theory that means you can stay in the sun for 30 (or 50) times longer than if your skin were bare, but in practice a number of things can reduce the protection sunscreen provides.

To maximise the effectiveness of sunscreen you should apply it plentifully, at least 20 minutes before you go out. That means at least a teaspoonful on each limb and an equivalent amount on other exposed skin like your face, ears and the back of your neck.

Sweat can displace sunscreen, so the more water-resistant the formula the better, and you should apply a top-up every two hours. That means a small tube of sunscreen is a summer jersey pocket essential.

Sunscreens contain chemicals that absorb UV rays before they get to your skin, or physical barriers such as ultra-fine particles of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that reflect it, or both. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation many sunscreens combine several different chemical and physical ingredients in order to provide broad-spectrum protection.

There are usually at least three active ingredients including PABA derivatives, salicylates, and/or cinnamates (octylmethoxycinnamate and cinoxate) for UVB absorption; benzophenones (such as oxybenzone and sulisobenzone) for shorter-wavelength UVA protection; and avobenzone, ecamsule (MexorylTM), titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide for the remaining UVA spectrum.

Slide on sunglasses

Bianchi Falco glasses - worn

Bianchi Falco glasses - worn

Repeated exposure to bright light and UV can cause a range of short- and long-term eye problems including including cataracts, macular degeneration, growths on the eye known as pingueculae and pterygia, and photokeratitis (‘snow blindness’).

In the UK, sunglasses have to meet British Standard BS EN 1836:2005, so look out for markings that indicate compliance and don’t buy anything that doesn’t meet the standard.

You should also check sunglasses for consistency and optical clarity by looking through them at arm’s length to see if they excessively distort the view.

On a bike sunglasses also help keep bugs and other flying crud out of your eyes, so as well as dark lenses for daylight, it’s worth having a second pair with clear or yellow lenses for low-light riding.

>>Read more: the best cycling sunglasses
>>Read more: the best cheap cycling sunglasses
 

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

26 comments

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bikebot [2119 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Nice guest appearance by Keith Peat's  dog  1

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mostly [68 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes

Chuck away last years cream and buy fresh. 

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olic [74 posts] 1 year ago
3 likes

I've always used P20 and never had a problem. It is strange stuff to apply but about the only thing on the market you can apply once and not have to worry about it coming off with sweat etc. while you ride. I've never managed to burn through it despite being very pale!

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StraelGuy [1096 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

I'm off to Lanzarote for a week of cycling at the end of May and I've already bought a bottle of uber-mega-ultra-50+ quality sunscreen, can't wait yes.

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. . [190 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
olic wrote:

I've always used P20 and never had a problem. It is strange stuff to apply but about the only thing on the market you can apply once and not have to worry about it coming off with sweat etc. while you ride. I've never managed to burn through it despite being very pale!

I can highly recommend Ultrasun Sport Gel.  Much nicer to apply than P20, and works all day even with sweating or swimming.

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Danger Dicko [282 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Good point about ears and neck, 2 areas that tend to be ignored when applying suncream.

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johnrawlins [5 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

I live and cycle in southern Spain. I protect myself wearing a British Army desert hat and a long-sleeved button-up polyamide shirt (Rohan or Decathlon).  I can cycle all day without suffering sunburn or sweaty patches. 

 

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EK Spinner [80 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

I always use "Banana Boat Sport", very sweatproof and non greasy to apply, I have used it in Mallorca and Lanzerote with no sunburn and my son has used it on intensive rugby training camps in Southern France. As a teenager at the time he was able to apply it first thing and forget it for the rest of the day

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localsurfer [202 posts] 1 year ago
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Kid's sunblock is the best, as it's usually a high factor and waterproof, and usually won't sting your eyes too much if it does melt.

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legendary27 [14 posts] 1 year ago
9 likes

Or do what I do and live in Scotland . . . . . . .

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antigee [453 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

don't know if these are available in the UK but from too near a hole in the ozone layer, high UV even when cloudy Aus':

https://www.cancercouncilshop.org.au/store/shop_hats/shop_hats_treadley_...

looks like ship international for around $20   (at the moment exchange rate is around AU$2 = £1)

Not up to date on UK import regs but think if value more than £15 vat plus admin fee payable?

I only sport one of these for multiday riding all day trips but if you have any concerns about skin cancer are an excellent product

Also  recommend the long sleeved, UV rated Ground Effect "Rock Lobster" top from NZ  - excellent on hot sunny days, not a bargain but well made from good quality material and despite very regular use is lasting well

ps it is raining today!

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ragtag [219 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Arm coolers are also great for extreme conditions. Not really a thing in the UK, I know a number of brands sell them, but picked them up in Asia about 10 years ago. Adds a layer of protection to your skin, especially in midday sun. 

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Disfunctional_T... [242 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

It's ridiculous how difficult it is to find long-sleeve jerseys made for hot weather riding. The fact that sun exposure causes skin cancer has been known for DECADES. Arm coolers are a hassle. Cycling apparel manufacturers please get your act together and make some stylish, form-fitting high-performance long-sleeve jerseys for hot weather. Market it as adventure gear or something.

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LastBoyScout [332 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
guyrwood wrote:

I'm off to Lanzarote for a week of cycling at the end of May and I've already bought a bottle of uber-mega-ultra-50+ quality sunscreen, can't wait yes.

I went there in May last year. Unusually, due to the winds blowing from over Africa, it was ridiculously hot - one thermometer I passed on a pharmacy stated 42C. Baking cycling along the road past the volcanos and slogging up the hills - worth it for the spectacular views, though.

Water is expensive at petrol stations - stock up at supermarkets. Also a pain to get a sandwich anywhere remote, although the main resorts are ok.

Castelli sun sleeves kept the sun off my arms.

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Fish_n_Chips [515 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

I only burn at 27C+ and just get brown. Only red in when I was in Oz.

I would reccommend sunscreen to protect youself from long term sun damage and new freckles.

At 40 I look ok but wished I used sunscreen as a kid.  My peers look much older though as if they smoked etc.  We're living longer due to healthcare and diet, might as well look good at 90 lol.

 

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Yorkshire wallet [1575 posts] 1 year ago
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What about vitamin D with really high factor sunblock though?

I just read something that said vitamin D helps prevent certain types of cancer so round and round it goes.

I appear to be lucky in that I rarely burn and don't look like an aged prune either.  Roll of the genetic dice I suppose.

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vonhelmet [847 posts] 1 year ago
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Ten minutes of sunlight a day is enough to get all the vitamin  d you can use, or so a radiation therapist told me...

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Jimnm [269 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Chris Fs back looks hot ouch! Tops of your ears are very sensitive, mustn't forget to block those puppies.  That dog looks awesome lol 

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Jimnm [269 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Chris Fs back looks hot ouch! Tops of your ears are very sensitive, mustn't forget to block those puppies.  That dog looks awesome lol 

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1tal [22 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

Just move to the North East of England, it's permanently winter here  so no need to practice safe sun, your more likly to get hypothermia than sun burn.

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part_robot [272 posts] 3 months ago
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The only sunburn I got this year was in Glasgow. I'm not sure moving North is 100% the solution.

P20 factor 50, a cap and a bushy beard works for me. We don't net get vitamin D, as cyclists, anyway due to the intensity of the sport so you may as well cover up and supplement.

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carytb [120 posts] 3 months ago
2 likes

Couple of links that may provide a bit of food for thought against the perceived wisdom of making sure that no part of your skin ever comes into direct contact with sunshine.

https://drmalcolmkendrick.org/2016/03/23/sunbathing-is-good-for-you/

and

https://philmaffetone.com/the-sun/

I think I read on one of Dr Kendricks blogs that a cardiologist once said that he regarded his job as keeping people alive long enough so they could die of cancer.

 

 

 

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Al__S [1275 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

Another P20 factor 50 fan here.

If you're off up mountains do remember to be careful, just because it is cooler doesn't mean there's less chance of sun burn. If anything, you're more at risk. Though at least in summer there's not the snow to make things worse- sun burn on exposed skin a major issue for skiers and snow boarders! The idea that you "don't burn in less than 27°C" is utter madness and a route to pain.

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RobD [539 posts] 3 months ago
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carytb wrote:

Couple of links that may provide a bit of food for thought against the perceived wisdom of making sure that no part of your skin ever comes into direct contact with sunshine.

https://drmalcolmkendrick.org/2016/03/23/sunbathing-is-good-for-you/

With all due respect to the good doctor, doing analysis on data sets and actually conducting clinical trials are slightly different things, yes his point about people avoiding every bit of sunlight they can is probably valid, humans evolved outdoors after all, but advocating sunbathing as a preventative measure, particularly in the context of stating those who avoid sun exposure have the same risk of death as smokers, is a little irrisponsible as a lot of people will go all daily mail and take it out of context and to extremes.

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matthewn5 [1086 posts] 3 months ago
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I noticed when I was in Oz a few years back that the roadies all had a cloth on the back of their helmets, like a desert hat, to keep their necks out of the sun. Good idea

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Bigfoz [143 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

Since we moved up to the West of Scotland, sunburn has not been an issue. I have bought a lot of rain jackets though...