How to protect your skin on and off the bike: The Essential Guide

I switched on the TV last weekend hunting out some sport and an hour of peace.

Scrolling through the on-screen guide, I noticed the famous Paris-Nice cycling race had just started. I had to mentally check. How had the new cycling season crept up on me so fast?

Realising it was already March, I knew hundreds of you would soon be de-hibernating and vacating the Strava man-cave in pursuit of fresh air and tarmac. With that in mind, I thought this week’s post might be useful prep for our community of cycling enthusiasts.

Here are our six top tips on how to protect your skin on and off the bike.

1. The piece of cycling gear you REALLY need

Your skin is your body’s largest organ and its first line of defence against external aggressors.

As a cyclist, your skin is constantly under attack from UV (even during winter), pollution, cold wind and dry/hot air. This culminates in skin damage and could amount to anything from premature ageing, dryness, itchiness or sensitivity, all the way to skin cancer.

Cycling is the ultimate sport for gear and kit. But not enough people realise the importance of everyday skin protection and what it can do for your overall and long-term skin health. That’s why our advice applies any time of year and whenever you head outdoors on the bike.

Making skin protection part of your kit might not reduce weight or make you go as fast as your brand new aero helmet, but it could be a life-saver.

2. Apply sunscreen before you set off and again during coffee breaks

Chances are, you’re probably out on your ride for an hour or more. During that time, the cool air breeze and any sweating might not make you realise how intense the sun is.

Temperature isn’t an indicator for sun strength so err on the side of caution and apply sunscreen before you set-off and at every break. Even in the UK. And even during winter.

Ignore Velominati rules insisting that tan lines should be kept razor sharp at all times. A tan is a sign of skin damage and should be avoided. Sorry.

3. Wear UPF 50+ cycle kit

Not all fabrics are created equal.

For example, a white cotton t-shirt is the equivalent of SPF 5 and you could feasibly burn through it.

Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is to fabrics what SPF is to sunscreen. It’s a measure of how much UV protection the fabric provides.

Presumably you’ve seen the picture Chris Froome’s partner posted of the skin damage caused by his mesh jersey? We’d say that’s a marginal loss. So, look out for UPF 50+ cycle kit and avoid mesh at all costs.

4. Find a UPF hat to wear under your helmet

It might get hot under your lid but your head’s a sitting duck under strong sun on a long ride. That’s even more true if you’re bald or have a close cut on top.

Wear a beanie or a hat with a visor (ideally) under your helmet. There are breathable, lightweight, UPF 50+ variants out there. It’s a whole lot better than a sunburnt head or sun stroke.

Is helmet tan a thing…? It shouldn’t be.

5. Don’t forget your eyes

Pretty sure you already do this but protect your eyes on long rides.

UV levels can be high even on a cloudy day and overexposure can lead to painful inflammation. Sunglasses with UV400 protection (or which have the CE kite mark) are a critical piece of kit.

Low quality lenses can cause more harm than good as you can read in our blog post devoted to eye protection.

6. Repair and recovery

Help your skin repair and recover after a long day outside. Slap on a good moisturiser to re-seal the outer barrier. This one is more about looking and feeling better but that doesn’t make it any less important.

Go well.

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