Easy Ways To Prevent Sunburns While Cycling

I personally love a bit of sun and the chance to get those famous cycling tan lines but I don’t like being sunburnt. 

Fortunately, there are easy ways to prevent sunburns while cycling and I’m going to tell you what they are!

Sun Safety

As cyclists, we take precautions such as wearing a helmet or wearing glasses but we often forget about sun safety. 

According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is on the rise.

Cyclists are at risk simply due to the fact we spend a lot of time outdoors and we wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts. Many of us aren’t very good at protecting ourselves against the sun.

Sunblock. Sunglasses. Hydrate. Protective Clothing. Right Time. 

Above are some of the key things to remember but for more detail, keep reading! 🌞

Top 5 Tips For Sun Protection

  1. Use the right amount of sunscreen. Apply sunscreen before you start your ride and be sure to put some on during your ride. Apply it to all exposed skin areas. The backs of your hands and thighs are often forgotten but not by the sun! 
  2. Wear appropriate clothing. Ideally, this should be cycling clothing. The reason I say that is because lycra and polyester, which are often used in cycling kits score well in UPF tests. This means that they do help to provide a natural sunblock, protecting your skin. If you want help with color choices…black provides a better level of UV protection. 
  3. Wear sunglasses. Sunglasses work as a filter to block out the UV rays so they won’t harm our eyes. While you don’t need dedicated cycling sunglasses, the lenses are usually larger and so offer more protection (they also look cool 😎).
  4. Think about the time of day you cycle. UV rays are most intense during the middle of the day so if possible, cycle in the mornings and evenings (more on this below).
  5. Hydration is important. Whatever the weather, hydration is important but if you’re cycling in the summer heat, it’s vital that you stay hydrated. People’s needs do vary but aim for at least 500ml of fluid every 45 minutes to an hour.

Related article – Skin Care For Cyclists – Keep Your Skin Healthy

Woman cycling in the sunshine

What Are The Risks Of Long-Term Uv Exposure?

Skin cancer is the biggest risk from long-term UV exposure. This is melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. 

It’s a real issue, with 1 in 5 Americans developing skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Melanoma Skin Cancer

Melanoma is the most severe of skin cancers and it’s actually the most common type amongst the younger generation – people aged 15 to 29.

It isn’t the most common type of skin cancer, in fact, it only makes up for around 3% of all skin cancers. However, it accounts for around 75% of skin cancer deaths.

The cause?

Excessive UV exposure.

Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

Non-melanoma isn’t as severe as melanoma, though it has the potential to spread if you don’t treat it. 

Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are the types of non-melanoma skin cancers. 

Fortunately, if you catch these early, they are rarely fatal.

Avoid Sunburns – Choosing The Ideal Time To Ride

In the summer months, the sun is higher in the sky. Meaning that the UV rays are spread across a smaller area than in the winter months. This is why we find that the UV is more intense during those summer months, and at noon, rather than mornings or evenings.

When we talk about UV, we’re talking about UV’s intensity. The higher the index number, the greater intensity. As a general rule of thumb, UV rays will be more intense at noon as the sun is at its highest level in the sky.

So if you’re looking to ride, avoid the midday sun if at all possible.

Ideally, you should be looking at cycling early morning or in the evening as this is the best way to lower your UV exposure. Another thing you need to consider is your altitude and how that affects your UV exposure. 

Basically, the higher you go, the higher risk of UV exposure. The reason for this is because there is less atmosphere to absorb the rays. So whilst you might feel cooler as you get higher, don’t forget about UV!

It’s easy to unzip your jersey on a hot day when you’re on a tough climb, but give it a second thought before you do so.

Cyclist riding in low sunlight

What Should I Do If I’ve Been Sunburnt?

If your skin has too much sun without the right protection, you can find yourself sunburnt. It’s important to help heal and soothe this skin and it’s important to do this as soon as you notice signs that you’re sunburnt. 

For starters, you should get yourself away from the sun. If you can, go indoors. Once you’re indoors it’s time to start trying to relieve any discomfort.

Take Cool Baths Or Showers Frequently

This will help to lessen the pain somewhat. When you have finished your bath or shower pat your skin gently to dry. 

I’d recommend that you leave a small amount of water on your skin. When you apply moisturizer you can trap this water and it will help to ease the dry feeling your skin is feeling.

Choose A Moisturizer That Has Aloe Vera Or Soy In It

Aloe Vera and soy are known to help soothe sunburnt skin so make sure your moisturizer has some of that in. If you have particularly sensitive spots or badly burnt bits of skin then you can purchase hydrocortisone cream. You don’t need a prescription for this. 

Anything that ends in “caine” I would stay away from, this could cause irritation to your skin or possibly an allergic reaction.

Aspirin Or Ibuprofen

If you have any swelling, discomfort, or redness, you may find that taking aspirin or ibuprofen will help to reduce this.

Hydrate

You should take on extra water as the sunburn will draw your body fluids to the surface of the skin, taking it from the rest of your body. This can cause you to become dehydrated. 

Ensuring that you drink more water than usual will help you to stay hydrated.

Related article – How To Prevent Dehydration While Cycling

Blisters

Skin blisters are second-degree sunburns, they need time to heal. 

Do not pop your blisters (even with a sterilized needle – still not a good idea). 

A blister is formed as a way of helping your skin recover and it helps to protect it from getting an infection so think of it as helping you out!

Take Extra Care Of Your Sunburns

Think about your outfits when you go outside until your skin has healed. Your clothing should cover your skin and tightly-woven fabric is a winner. 

A quick to see if the fabric is going to protect you, hold it up to bright light. Can you see any light through it? 

If you can’t, it will offer your skin some much-welcomed protection.

Sunburnt arm

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Wear A Hat Under A Bike Helmet?

Helmets are intended to fit snuggly against your head to give you the most protection.

Having said that, if you’re looking to get an extra bit of sun protection, you can pick up dedicated cycling hats or caps that will have visors.

How Can I Protect My Skin From The Sun Without Sunscreen?

If you’re not wearing sunscreen, you can still protect yourself from the sun, here are the best ways:

  • Long sleeves and dark clothing. Closely knit and dark will be best
  • Sunglasses
  • Sit in shaded areas
  • Avoid UV light

Hi, I'm Harry, the owner of this site! A 30-something MAMIL - a middle-aged man in lycra. An avid cyclist who is looking to maintain a baseline level of fitness to be able to enjoy the great outdoors on weekend rides with his mates!

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