Summer is just around the corner and for many cyclists, especially those of us in the sun belt, that means long hours in the saddle under the sun. All those hours spent exercising during the day are great, but it does put us at high risk for contracting sun-related skin ailments, including skin cancer. We’ve all heard the recent statistics that while most forms of cancer are on the decrease, the incidence of skin cancer, in particular, melanoma, the most deadly of skin cancers, continues to rise.
Cycling is about spending time outdoors. And more often than not, most cyclists enjoy riding their bikes when the weather is nice and sunny, putting many of America’s 57 million cyclists at risk for skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 2 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year. In addition, about 68,000 cases of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, are diagnosed yearly. The more time you spend outdoors cycling, the greater the risk of exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation and sunburns.
So what’s a cyclist to do? To stay healthy we need some sun exposure but it’s better to get that before 10 am or after 4 pm, after all, the best defense against sun exposure is to cover up and seek shade during peek exposure hours. That’s great advice for recreational cyclists, but most cycling enthusiasts are often still on their bikes well into peak UV times, leaving us to rely on other lines of defense.
If you want to protect your skin, be sure to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas. The American Cancer Society recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30. Even better, use sunscreens with UVA/UVB sun protection, and be sure to put enough on. The recommended amount is one ounce to cover your whole body, reapplying frequently. In a study published in the Archives of Dermatology, researchers determined that the average person applies only half of the proper amount of sunscreen required, and therefore receives only half of the SPF protection. The irony is not only do many cyclists not apply and then reapply sunscreen, but they also spend even more time out in the sun than they otherwise would.
Sunscreen products come in all kinds of different formulations, but in terms of UV protection look for a product that provides broad spectrum protection, blocking both UVA and UVB radiation. Choose your sunscreen carefully as some dermatologists have been voicing concern about the systemic effect of the chemicals in them as well as some unrealistic claims by manufacturers. Remember that sunscreens are not regulated by the FDA allowing manufacturers to sell products that contain unhealthy ingredients and/or make exaggerated claims about the amount of protection they offer. Luckily there are extensive reviews available online, like the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database and 2011 Sunscreen Guide.
Try to avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone (it’s associated to photoallergic reactions), vitamin A (although Vitamin A is good for you when ingested, scientific data shows it has photocarcinogenic properties that can speed the growth of skin cancers when applied to sun-exposed skin) and sunscreens containing insect repellents.
Look for sunscreens that are cream based, waterproof, provide broad spectrum protection (UVA/UVB), have an SPF rating of 30 or better and contain zinc, titanium dioxide, avobenzone or mexoryl sx.
I personally use multiple products/formulations of sunscreen on different areas of my body. For example, I use Neutrogena UltraSheer dry-touch sunblock on my face, neck and shoulders. It’s easy to apply, non greasy, soaks quickly into the skin, and most importantly, it doesn’t get all messy when I start to sweat. On my legs, perhaps the most exposed part of the cyclists body, I use Banana Boat’s Sport spray. It goes on fast and easy with no rubbing or fussing required, and it’s incredibly waterproof.
For those who want to avoid the mess of sunscreen, wear protective clothing with built in UPF of at least 40. Although the thought of wearing a long sleeve jersey, or arm protectors on a hot summer day might seem odd, today’s technical fibers manage to keep you cool and comfortable while protecting you from the suns rays. Most major clothing manufacturers are all starting to incorporate high UPF ratings in their kits. I’m not a fan of long sleeve jerseys, but I absolutely love arm coolers/chillers, in particular the Craft Body Control Armcooler and the Bontrager UV SunStop Arm Cover . They are similar in construction to arm warmers, employing thin, vented, compression fabrics which wick away moisture keeping your arms surprisingly cool. They are comfortable and easy to remove at a moments notice. Best of all they are long enough to allow your gloves to overlap them giving you a gapless barrier against the sun.
Don’t forget your lips and eyes as they also take a beating from the sun. Get a pair of good quality sunglasses with dark lenses and UV protection as well as some lip balm with UVA/UVB protection. For those few who may be a little thin up top, look into a cycling cap or skull cap with a high UFP rating to wear under your helmet.
Early detection of melanoma has a 95 per cent survival rate so check your skin regularly. Conduct a skin cancer self-examinations especially if you have a fair complexion, multiple freckles and moles, or experienced severe sunburns as a child (these are all leading risk factors for skin cancer). Take this seriously, especially if you spend a fair amount of time cycling outside. At least once a month, before you get into or just out of the shower, look at your skin. Look at moles and freckles to see if you notice any changes in their shape, size, color or asymmetry. Make an appointment once a year with your doctor or a dermatologist to look at your skin as part of an annual exam. Especially watch moles and freckles on high-risk areas of your body, the face, nose, ears, the back of your hands and your calves.
You protect your head wearing a helmet. You protect your eyes from dust and dirt with sunglasses. You protect yourself riding defensively. Be sure to protect yourself while riding under the sun!
Ride Time: 2:08:08
Stopped Time: 59:46
Distance: 38.27 miles
Average: 17.92 mph
Fastest Speed: 26.62 mph
Ascent: 703 feet
Descent: 731 feet