5 Easy Ways to Prevent Sunburns While Cycling

Jan Poshenko
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An Introduction to UV Radiation

The sun can be dangerous, particularly if you don't take enough steps to protect your skin. Sure, you can wear protection, but what about when you are cycling? Ensuring that you don't have to be paranoid about sunburns can make the difference between being concerned and having fun!

The best solution for this is sun protection. The more sun protection you use, the better off you will be. I look at it as a necessary investment, and it's one that can save you tons of damage in the long run.

There are a lot of articles about sun damage, but how about some nifty tips to get you started? Here are 5 easy ways that will help you prevent sunburns while cycling:

Wear a hat, your skin on your face is at great risk for burning!

Wear some type of sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays. If you need a good measure, try to find all-round sun glasses that cover both the UVA and UVB light spectrum. Not sure if they work? Stick ‍ 25.4mm (1 inch) pieces of colored cellotape on them, if you get a rainbow then they do not block UVA. Here are some examples of sunglasses that will protect your eyes.

Types of UV Radiation

Ultraviolet radiation is classified into 4 categories, each varying in wavelength and associated danger. They are:

UVC – < 290 nm – Extremely hazardous. Causes severe sunburn and even skin cancer.
UVB – 290 nm – 320 nm – Sunburn, and may cause cancer.

UVA – 320 nm – 400 nm – May cause cancer if overexposed.

How can you expose yourself to small amounts of UVA? By using tanning beds, which use UVB light to trigger the natural tanning process in the same way that sunshine does. To produce the desirable bronzed look, most tanning beds give off low levels of UVA light as well.

For example, tanning beds that use fluorescent tubes give off more UVA.

However, no one should use a fluorescent tanning bed. Many of these now use UVC-filtered tubes which are safe.

It is clear that there is a lot more to UV radiation than its ability to cause skin cancer.

The Hidden Dangers of UV to the Skin and Eyes

The sun gives us light, warmth, Life and love. All are involved in this balance. When we reflect our own light, St. Elmo’s fire, we are reminded of this. When the sun’s infrared radiation strikes the earth, we can feel the warmth.

The light of the sun gives us the Vitamin D we need to grow strong bones. The color of the light allows our green plants to grow. Plants need light to survive. We need plants to survive. As one part of the celestial circle of existence, we are fed and protected by the sun.

But the sun’s radiation also damages. Too much exposure can destroy our eyesight. Skin cancer kills over a million people every year. It is alarmingly easy to get sunburned, and children, teens and adults are at a greater risk. The sun’s electromagnetic array can damage every system in our body. The danger is very real and related directly to the wavelength of the light. The sun is similar to a particle accelerator. It delivers x-rays, gamma rays, ultraviolet rays, and infrared rays. The type of danger to our skin and eyes depends on the wavelength of the light.

Below we’ve listed 5 easy, practical ways to prevent your skin from burning and your eyes from getting sunburned.

The Risks of Long-Term UV Exposure

Even though you might spend most of your time this summer biking indoors, going for a ride on your bicycle does expose you to one of the leading causes of skin cancer. You probably already know that UV radiation is the leading cause of the kinds of cancers that are linked to sunburns – namely, skin cancer. But did you also know that people who spend a lot of time in sunlight (even if they don’t burn), have a significantly higher chance of developing skin cancer than people who don’t spend much time in the sun at all?

Skin cancer is also really unpleasant and painful. So researchers have been trying to figure out ways to do more to help people protect their skin from UV exposure, without having to worry about slathering on a thick layer of sunscreen.

Check out the infographic below for five simple ways to keep your skin protected when you’re on the bike.

Bonus tip: you can also use this infographic via download to help others learn ways to bike-proof their skin from UV exposure.

Melanoma Skin Cancer

Melanoma is Australia’s deadliest form of skin cancer. In the worst-case scenario, our sunscreen helps us prevent 12,100 cases of melanoma skin cancer in Australia each year, and 1,200 cases of potentially deadly melanoma skin cancer in young people aged 15-29. That’s really important, because melanoma kills one Australian every nine hours.

According to Cancer Council Australia’s surveillance figures, rates of melanoma have increased by 9% since 2011, with 1,668 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in 2013.

"The number of melanoma cases occurring in Australia has increased each year over the last five years from 2009 to 2013,” says Melanoma Institute Australia CEO, Professor Neville Ponniah, "and the incidence rate of young people with melanoma is on a particularly steep rise compared to the rest of the population."

That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide to using sunscreen and even what to use after it’s worn off.

Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

It is the most common type of skin cancer and can be deadly if not caught early. Because the majority of cases are curable with proper treatment, receiving regular check-ups and being aware of any changes in your skin are two of the best ways to ensure that you catch a melanoma in its earliest stages.

Melanoma often shows up as a mole that changes in color, diameter or shape, but other symptoms include:

  • Itching or pain
  • Bleeding or pus from a lesion.

If you exhibit any of these symptoms, you should contact a specialist for diagnosis and treatment.

Do Not Wait

A study that was published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings shows that a large percentage of melanoma cases could have been prevented if the patient had been more proactive in seeking attention. Scientists found that many of the patients that were diagnosed with melanoma were reluctant to seek attention because the symptoms had not yet become intensive enough to warrant a visit to a dermatologist. The study also found that 20% of the patients that had been diagnosed with melanoma believed that the impact was not severe enough to seek treatment.

What the Experts and Science Says

Do you Love to Ride? Bike riding on your leisure time is quite fun and can improve your health. But sometimes, you’re not aware of the damage sunlight can do to your skin. Because in the summer we usually ride on open air to enjoy the environment around us.

If you feel that you’re having difficulty in cycling because your skin is too sensitive to sunlight, I have 5 easy and natural ways that you can prevent that.

Wear lots of sunscreen.

Sunscreen is a must if you’re cycling outdoors and hate the sun. It’s a good idea to reapply sunscreen throughout the day, especially after sweating, and after you have dried off.

Here are some roundups on the best ones you can get.

If you’re going to be in the sun for a long period of time, consider wearing a sun-protective clothing such as sun shirts and sun pants, which are also abundant on the market. And it’s great if you bring some with you when you travel.

Wear a thick hat.

As you might try to find the best shades in the market, it’s worthwhile to find a hat with a wide brim. The hat will not only protect your face, but also the back of your neck.

Pro Cyclists Exceeded More than 30x the Exposure Limits

Anyone who spends time outdoors knows that sunburns can ruin a sunny day. Luckily, they are easy to prevent with a few simple steps. With the Tour of California underway, athletes (and spectators) are basking in the sunshine, largely exposed to the sun. You probably know that it isn’t only a problem for cyclists, but actually for every outdoor activity!

The longer you are exposed to the sun, and the longer and stronger the rays of the sun are, the risk of getting a sunburn increases. So how can we prevent sunburns while cycling? Here are 5 tips for you:

Choose clothing that covers the majority of your body. And make sure you protect yourself well on your neck.

Apply sunscreen with at least 30SPF to all exposed parts of your skin.

If you are cycling for more than half an hour, bring lip balm and sunglasses to prevent solar radiation from harmful blue rays.

Drink lots of water during cycling to avoid dehydration and temperature increases.

After cycling, the sun’s harmful impact continues. So be sure to apply sunscreen every 2 hours for a few days

Skin Cancer Cases are Increasing Worldwide

More people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year than with any other form of cancer. Don’t be one of them.

While individual factors are still more important than protective clothing, hip protectors work to keep the sun off of your skin and out of the way of harmful UVA and UVB rays.

Here are 5 easy ways to prevent sunburns while cycling:

Wear sunscreen

This is no secret. Everyone knows that it’s important to wear sunscreen. However, the statistics show that most people don’t. (I’ll admit that I’m guilty of this too. Sometimes I get so caught up with things that I don’t put it on as often as I should. I’m trying to do better with it.)

Apply it liberally before heading out. And make sure you check the expiration date.

Select a good protector

There are a lot of different variations to choose from. You want something that’s going to stay in place and protect your skin.

You want to get proper coverage while keeping as cool as possible.

Wear pants

UV Radiation Levels will Continue to Increase due to Climate Change

And for good reason! Research from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) suggests that over 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer in their lifetime and that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

When it comes to protecting you and your family, it is important that you stay informed. UV radiation levels will continue to increase as climate change impacts the way the sun’s light interacts with our atmosphere.

Happily, there are several easy ways to prevent sunburns while cycling and protect yourself from the sun. Here are 5 easy skin cancer prevention tips to keep you safe while cycling.

Wear sunscreen

The most effective way to protect your skin while cycling is to put on sunscreen.

Sunscreen can be worn daily, even if you don’t plan on being in the sun.

Sunscreen is especially important if you are going to be riding a bike that has no protection from the sun, like a racing bike or a triathlon bike.

While there are many different types of sunscreen with promised sun protection factors, not all sunscreen is created equal.

Choose a sunscreen that is broad-spectrum, SPF 30, water-resistant and contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Know your risks

UV Radiation Still Find its Way into the Eyes even with Sunglasses On

Ever heard of UV radiation being referred to as “the silent killer?” Well, there’s a good reason for that. Even if you don’t notice any negative health effects right away, years of chronic exposure to UV can leave you with wrinkled skin and increased risks of skin cancer. Not to mention the agony that is a sunburn.

Although wearing a good sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and covering up with clothing always helps, we still need to take precautions when we’re cycling outdoors because we aren’t completely covered by protective clothing.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to minimize UV radiation exposure and the risk of a bad sunburn.

These are our five favorite ways to protect ourselves from the sun when we’re cycling outdoors.

Use Sunscreens for Cycling

The major rule is to apply sunscreens as often as possible. For people with oily skins, a minimum of every four hours is advisable. Remember, the darker your skin is, the better it is protected from sunburns. This is because a darker skin has more melanin, which is a natural sunblock (not hair products).

If you are catching a waves when on the bike, you may want to consider using SPF in your soap or lotions. This is because the water is filled with perspiration and salt that can irritate your skin. This is an additional way of protecting your sensitive, moist skin.

SPF is often put into face creams, makeup, body creams, and shampoos. If you are not a fan of slippery or smooth cream, then a lotion with SPF would be a better alternative.

Fair Skin

Fair colored people are the most common burn victims due to the fact that there is less melanin in their skin. If your skin is fair and you cannot get out of the sun, you can use SPF to protect your skin. Many companies make different types of products that help to block the sun.

UPF vs SPF Ratings Explained

Sun protection factor (SPF) is the measure of a sunscreen's ability to protect against UVB (ultra-violet B) rays from the sun. Sun protection factor is a measurement of personal protection against the sun's UVB radiation and is a large number that tells you how much longer you can stay in the sun before burning. A sun protection factor of 15 means that your skin will burn 15 times longer than if you were not wearing sunscreen.

UPF is the number used to measure the amount of protection from UVA (ultra-violet A) rays.

UVB rays can burn you but only affect the outer layer of your skin. UVA rays penetrate deeper into your skin. Long term UVA exposure can result in sun poisoning, skin cancers and wrinkles.

SPF numbers do not describe the amount of protection from UVA rays provided.

Wear CLOTHING that provides protection. Look for clothes and helmets that block both UVA and UVB rays. UV protective clothing is made out of synthetic fibers that filter the sun's rays and reflect them away from your body. These synthetic fibers are used in clothing items such as hats, sunglasses, sunglasses, shirts and long sleeved shirts.

SPF Ratings

What is SPF? Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measurement used to describe the amount of protection a sunscreen will give your skin, and is represented as a number. It is based on how long an unprotected person would take to burn compared with the amount of time it would take someone wearing sunscreen to burn. So SPF 15 will protect you 15 times longer than if you did not use any sunscreen at all, SPF 30 means you are protected 30 times longer, and SPF 50 means 50 times longer.

The higher the SPF, the more protection is given. However, SPF is not a measure of protection from harmful UVA rays, meaning the SPF increases in SPF 15 and 30 are smaller than other SPFs.

UPF Ratings

Want to avoid sunburns or UV damage to your skin during the hot summer months? Look for clothing and sporting goods that feature UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) ratings. UPF ratings are the agencies that certify that a product will protect you against the sun.

Sunscreens are a great way to protect yourself from the sun, but if you expose your skin to the sun for extended periods of time you’re going to get burned regardless of how much sunscreen you applied. UPF clothing is designed to block out the sun’s rays and will help prevent sunburns. UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor. It is the rating that measures the fabric’s ability to protect the wearer from skin damage caused by UV radiation. The higher the UPF rating, the more shielding power the garment will provide you with.

Wear Cycling Sunglasses

The most obvious way to avoid getting sunburn while cycling is to protect your eyes. Properly-fitting glasses with UV protection will make sure that your eyes are protected from those harmful UV rays. Cycling sunglasses can be worn for cycling and sports, but also for diverse activities such as driving, fishing, and winter sports.

The lenses can be made of special plastic polymers or of glass for maximum protection.

Cycling sunglasses will also protect the cyclist’s eyes from dust, sweat, and other bad weather conditions. You can choose flat or wrap-around styles, both of which have some protection against side impacts and can be fitted with replaceable lenses to ensure the greatest level of safety and comfort.

Wearing sunglasses also has the benefit of reducing eye strain, eye fatigue, and stress during your long cycling sessions.

Choose the Ideal Time to Ride

You can save yourself a lot of trouble if you plan your cycling route and choose your riding times wisely. Try not to do your ride when the sun is at its hottest (10am to 3pm) because the rays of the sun can penetrate through the thin clothing that bicyclists wear without any difficulty, and cause you to get a sunburn faster.

Be Aware of Higher UV Exposure at Altitude

Sunburns can be caused by overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The higher that you’re above sea level, the more intense UV rays will be.

People who live in high altitudes are often told to protect themselves from the added UV exposure by lathering on a generous amount of sunscreen.

Staying inside in your air conditioned car on your way to a local park to go for a bike ride is also a good idea. It is not as effective as applying sunscreen, but it is the best way to decrease exposure to UV rays in a low-cost manner.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered a moderate ride?

If you plan to cycle for at least an hour, you are considered to be doing a moderate distance.

What about hard workouts?

If you plan to do a hard workout or other strenuous activity, you should always wear sun protection.

What measures can you take to ensure that you do not get sunburnt while cycling?

Here are few things you can do to ensure that you will not get sunburnt while on your bike.

See if you can wear loose clothing while riding on hot days. This allows for ventilation, and air circulation to cool your body down.

If you must wear clothing with a collar, wear it underneath, instead of on top. This way you don’t have to worry about sunburn on your face, neck, and arms.

If you are riding in a small group, try to have at least two or three people wear sun protection.

Wear a hat with a wide brim, and make sure it has a chin strap.

Wash your bike with soap and water every few weeks.

Apply sunscreen not only to your face, but also to the rest of your body – including your lips.

Does sunscreen expire?

Absolutely! There is an expiration date stamped on all sunscreens. You know the one, it's the tiny little number code at the bottom of the tube. Even if you bought your sunscreen over two years ago, however, that doesn't mean that it has expired yet. The key is to check the expiration date and to actually use the stuff before the date on the tube!

Sunscreens can and will expire and will not be as effective if your continue to use them past the expiration date. Though the FDA has banned some chemicals that are harsh and toxic, that does not mean that the sunscreen is completely ineffective or can't be used at all.

So remember, check the expiration date on the tube before you buy it. It's not worth it to buy something that is just going to expire and do nothing!

How much sunscreen to use when cycling?

Take into consideration the type of cycling you are doing and how long you are planning to cycle for. If you are taking part in a long distance cycle, in extreme weather conditions or if you are cycling at different times of the year, then this will affect how much sunscreen you will need to apply.

If you plan to cycle in the middle of the day, then you should avoid waterproof formulas and stick to a high factor, water resistant sunscreen with a good UVA and SPF value. It’s also advisable to cover up with a long sleeve shirt and apply high factor sun cream to your uncovered skin.

If you are taking part in a more leisurely ride then you do not need to use as much sunscreen. Since you will be covering more ground at a slower pace, having a lighter formula and applying behind the ears, along your temples, in your ears and underneath your chin will be sufficient. Apply as little as possible and use up all the formula to avoid waste.

Remember, although the sun burns in a matter of seconds, the UV rays… damage takes time to develop. So whether you are taking part in a short or long ride it’s always advisable to protect yourself from UV rays.

Are sunscreen sprays effective?

Every year, thousands of Australians are admitted to hospitals for treatment of skin cancer. It is actually the most common cancer diagnosed and the second most common cause of cancer deaths, accounting for more than 2000 deaths each year.

This means that you have a one in two chance of contracting skin cancer through the sun by the age of 70.

It’s recently been recommended by the Cancer Council that every person over the age of one wear factor 50 sunscreen every single day, regardless of the weather, to reduce their risk of skin cancer. The Cancer Council reports that during the summer months, four out of every five skin cancer deaths are caused by sun exposure.

Regular sunscreen users are more likely to develop skin cancer at a later age, and they have less severe skin cancers when they do form. It’s also been found that regular sunscreen users are half as likely to develop melanoma as sunscreen non-users.

This is pretty significant considering Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

With some easy sunscreen tips, you can reduce your risk of developing skin conditions like melanoma by switching up your daily routine. Here are five easy ways to prevent sunburns while cycling.

Can I get sunburns through my cycling clothes?

Cycling shorts, shirts, jerseys and jerseys mostly have a layer of good sun protection on the front and back of the material to prevent burning. However, the straps and seams are still exposed to UV-rays. Make sure you apply enough sun block or cover these with sun protectant cream for maximum protection.

Use a sun cream from a trusted brand like MAC or Nivea .

You can even ask for SPF15 or 30 sun creams from the pharmacy. Which is indeed best for cycling?

Apply it early in the morning and re-apply if you ride long distances.

It’s also a good idea to carry an umbrella, it will protect your sensitive skin on your shoulders and chest.

Bicycle gloves are also crucial to protect your wrists. Because the arms are directly exposed to the sun through the special arm sleeves, they are very vulnerable to harmful UV rays.

Use a specially formulated SPF lotion that is available in the market.

High-factor (F30) sun protection cream is ideal for your cycling clothes.