In general, cyclists or any type of athlete have great skin. Along with proper nutrition and hydration, regular exercise brings more blood to the surface of the skin, so you get that healthy glow. The skin also heals faster because of increased blood flow that carries white blood cells, oxygen, and nutrients to the skin.
However, there are specific skin problems active people have to contend with, so here are a few tips on skin care for cyclists.
Getting Dermatitis and Other Rashes
Dermatitis can take the form of a simple rash, it can also be very itchy, and progress to small bumps on the skin. A common type of dermatitis experienced by athletes is miliaria or prickly heat. The rash can spread over wide areas of the skin but also isolates in patches. Miliaria is an inflammation caused by clogged skin sweat ducts. Sweat gets trapped under the skin and pushes out the pores. It usually occurs on the hands, feet, neck, between the breasts, buttocks, groin and in the elbow or knee folds.
Cycling apparel is usually tight and made of synthetic material like nylon, lycra, and polyester. These fabrics trap bacteria and fungus spores that can cause infections and dermatitis. People who enjoy wearing athleisure wear all the time, even when they are not cycling, may be unnecessarily trapping bacteria close to the skin.
To avoid dermatitis, change into fresh clothes after a sweaty ride, including underwear. Unclean sports bras can trap bacteria along the bra strap and between the breasts. If you can, take a shower after working out, or in the evening before bed. It’s alright to shower twice or even three times in a day, if you have been active.
Rashes from Sweat
Cyclists can experience rashes from skin sensitivity to sweat or sweat mixing with the chemicals in the fabric of their clothing. If you suspect your clothing to be giving you a rash, no brainer – wear something else!
Try to look for moisture wicking materials to absorb the sweat from the skin and push the moisture out to evaporate on the surface of the fabric. If you get a rash from sweat, sweat wicking fabric will make a worthwhile investment. Avoid organic fabrics like cotton, linen, and hemp because they absorb moisture well but dry very slowly.
Locker Room Fungal Infections
If you take spinning classes or occasionally cycle at the gym, you should watch out for bacteria that grows in the locker rooms.
A fungal infection can create white or red patches on the skin. They can also infect the nail. Athlete’s foot and ringworm is a form of fungal infection. You can get fungal infections from shared shower rooms, locker rooms, borrowing an infected person’s towel or using their other personal items.
Fungal infections are easy to remedy, so long as you catch them early. Infections between the nail bed, or infections that have spread to different parts of the body are more difficult to treat.
The Reality of Chub Rub, Chafing and Calluses
Extended physical activity comes with some damage to the skin in the form of chafing and calluses. Weightlifters get calluses on their hands, dancers callous on the feet, and cyclists chafe nearly everywhere!
Chafing between the thighs is fondly called chub rub, because only those with chubby thighs get them. Other chafe sensitive areas include the nipples, armpits, and groin. Women can chafe from the straps of their bra. You can also chafe from a heart monitor strapped to the chest or a timer strapped on the wrist.
Chafing happens when the skin rubs against clothing or other skin to the point where the surface cracks, wears off, and eventually bleeds. Cyclists wearing cycling bibs are usually ok as the material reduces friction when the tights rub together. If you aren’t cycling around with a bib on all the time, consider wearing some tights underneath your clothing to reduce friction.
Other ways to avoid chafing include applying a heavy lubricant like petroleum jelly or gel to your danger areas. Some people swear by KT tape, an adhesive used by athletes for strength and support, but can also be used to protect high friction areas. A regular band-aid or breathable medical tape will also do, in place of KT tape. Tape is especially useful on the nipple areas.
If the chafing on a seat gets worse and becomes saddle sore, check out this prevention and treatment plan from Sports Medicine.
Stretch Marks from Weight Loss or Muscle Gain
Been using indoor cycling to lose belly fat? Unfortunately, the occurrence of stretch marks is genetic. Some people have lines for days, others simply never get them. Common sites for stretch marks in athletes include the back, behind the knees, forearms, thighs, buttocks and anywhere else the skin has been stressed by rapid growth or reduction. Stretch marks are less noticeable on fair skin, but can look like stripes on dark skin. It can also feel itchy and sensitive.
It is very difficult to fade stretch marks and can take a long time to fade. Lotions keep stretch marks hydrated, and less itchy. You can cover up body stretch marks with foundation or a fake tan.
Some people go through laser treatment and dermabrasion to reduce the appearance of stretch marks. However, the success of these treatments vary. Even with the treatment, stretch marks can reoccur.
Sunburn, Dark Scars, and Skin Cancer
Cycling outdoors, especially during the warmer months, runs the risk of sunburn, skin damage, wrinkles and skin cancer. Exposing a fresh scar to the sun also causes the scar to darken. People who freckle can also be harmed by hyperpigmentation.
Simple solution to this one, put on some sunscreen or sunblock before heading out! Also consider wearing sunglasses and cover your skin with breathable arm / leg sleeves. Some brands have even created a UPF 50+ arm skin. Schedule outdoor training in the morning before 9am and in the evening after 3pm, to avoid the strongest sun rays of midday.
For some more information on skin safety and protection, check out this write up by the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Related article – Easy Ways To Prevent Sunburns While Cycling
Skin Care For Cyclists – Take It Seriously!
No matter where you ride your bike, your skin will take a bit of a battering. Wind, sun, rain, sweat and pollution will definitely damage your skin. This can result in anything from dry skin to rashes, skin infections and premature ageing. By putting in a little effort and prep, you’ll be able to take care of your skin! For any skin related issues, please consult your doctor or dermatologist.
Looking to protect your hands during winter? Have a look at these winter cycling gloves.