Sun Protection: Stay Safe In The Summer Sun

With the summer holidays right around the corner, there’s never been a better time to leave your car at home and get on your bike for a beautiful day of riding, enjoying the summer sunshine. Even if you’re not due for a holiday, taking your bike to work instead of your car is a great way to enjoy the weather and beat the traffic too.

Recently, we’ve published a few articles about all of the amazing benefits of cycling; if you haven’t read them then check out this link about your overall health and this one about weight loss. However, all things that are good do come with a drawback and this article is about a threat that many cyclists ignore. You may have the observational skills and reaction times of a fighter pilot but how are your defenses against one of nature’s silent killers – the sun?

Luckily, the media has helped raise some serious awareness about the threat of skin cancer and all the other nasties that go along with it and there is a lot of information out there about staying safe in the sun. Sadly, a lot of this information is geared towards sunbathers and beach goers rather than touring cyclists or regular commuters. Here, we’ve put together a checklist of what you need to arm yourself in the battle against the sun:

Using Sunscreen

Even if the sun doesn’t seem that strong, harmful UV rays can still damage your skin cells and wearing sun screen will definitely help you keep your skin healthy. Just slapping on a bit of cream isn’t enough though; in fact studies have shown that the amount of people dying from skin cancer over the past three decades has doubled, possibly due to misinformation about the protective qualities of sun screens. Many people wrongly assume that they have used the right factor for their skin type and that they don’t reapply as often as they should be.

Many professional cyclists that are repeatedly exposed to the sun over long periods of time suggest developing a routine of applying sunscreen, even in the worst of conditions; as soon as applying sunscreen, whatever the weather, becomes part of your everyday routine there should be no excuse missing an application. Studies have shown that missing just one re-application of sunscreen is enough to cause skin related problems in the future and isn’t a gamble worth taking.

So what factor do you need?

Many people wrongly believe that having a darker skin tone is protection enough from the sun. No matter what colour your skin is, you’re vulnerable to UV rays. Many scientists and healthcare professionals recommend a sun screen that offers at least SPF 30 for darker skin and above SPF 50 for lighter skin tones. If you’ve been applying anything less the recommended dose, you may encounter problems in future.

How often do you re-apply it?

Many sunscreens suggest re-applying after every two hours of sun exposure but that’s not regularly enough, especially if you’re riding a bicycle and working up a sweat. The British Association of Dermatologists have found that up to 80% of your sunscreen will be removed through sweating, leaving you unprotected if you don’t re-apply regularly enough. The BAD advise you to apply before getting on your bike and re-applying every hour at the absolute minimum.

Where do you apply it?

Applying sunscreen is fairly straightforward, so attack the usual trouble areas such as your face, arms and wrists but also pay special attention to your neck, your ears, the tops of your knees and any other exposed patches of skin that you might have. Those are the obvious places – but did you know that you can even burn through your clothing? It’s true. It’s worth applying sunscreen everywhere, just in case. There are specially designed cycling clothes that are built to block out the suns harmful rays but it’s probably cheaper to buy bottles of sunscreen and take the time to liberally apply it all over your body instead.

Keep Hydrated

When it comes to hydration, there is a lot of debate; some professionals advise cyclists and other athletes to drink water four hours before they plan to ride, more at two hours before their ride and again during their ride. Logically, no one has time to drink that much water and this argument doesn’t really hold sway if you’re only cycling twenty minutes to work but that doesn’t mean that you should leave the water bottle at home altogether!

Other professionals have suggested that the body copes better when ‘a little dry’ but again, take a bottle of water with you and sip when you feel thirsty.

Top endurance cyclists have tailored routines for taking on fluids that are designed perfectly for their bodies and you should consider this too when you go on your next long ride. If you’re riding buddy likes to stop and drink every fifteen minutes, it doesn’t mean that you have to. Everyone’s body works differently and water is absorbed at differing speeds so keep a record of how you feel on your next ride and the one after and tailor your own routine. The only thing to avoid is drinking far too little, to the point where you put yourself in danger.

Be Aware

Hopefully, you’ll have applied enough sunscreen, of the relevant factor, to the appropriate places and you’ll have enough water with you to keep you going. Remember to take regular breaks, especially if you think you’re overheating and stop every now and then even if you think you’re not. When you’re cycling, the breeze keeps you cool so you may not notice that your body is overheating, it’s worth stopping for a check every now and again to see how your body is coping.

Talking of checks, if you have developed any skin problems at all, then visit the doctor right away. Checking unusual patches of skin or moles is essential as many of these issues could potentially develop into cancer. Luckily, melanoma has a 95% survival rate if diagnosed early enough. Keep that in mind if something is worrying you!

Cycling Suggestions

On top of the tips above, here are a few more to give you the maximum sun protection possible:

  • Get a pair of proper sunglasses with UV protection; not just a pair of cheapies. They don’t have to be specific ‘cycling’ sunglasses either, anything with UV protection will do. You don’t want to burn your eyes, do you?
  • Wear long sleeves; we mentioned that UV resistant products are available so keep your eyes out for them, especially if you’re a regular cyclist.
  • If you don’t already wear a helmet, then go out and get one. A helmet with a peak at the front is ideal as it helps to protect your nose, ears and lips.
  • Ah, the lips! If you think you’re going to be out in the sun for a long period of time, then invest in a lip balm that offers sun protection. Burned lips are pretty nasty!

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