To safely share the road with machinery that weighs a couple of tons, bicyclists must always be aware of their surroundings and prepared to react quickly.
However, vehicles aren’t the only danger you encounter when out on your bike. There’s another peril sitting high in the sky shining down on you. Every time you hop on the bike, you’re at risk for incurring sun-related skin damage. Regardless if you use sunscreen before every beach outing or you choose to apply the best sunless tanner instead of exposing yourself to the harmful effects produced by tanning beds, simply being outside pedaling away creates opportunity for skin damage to occur.
Don’t Get Burned
The consequences of too much sun go much deeper than an occasional sunburn. Repeated exposure day after day, year after year has an accumulative effect, which continues to increase your chances for developing skin cancer.
The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that more than 3.5 million new cases are diagnosed in the United States every year. That’s more than the rate of incidence for breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined.
There are three main types of skin cancer: Basal cell carcinoma, the most common, characterized by sores that remain open for weeks; squamous cell carcinoma, signified by persistent scaly red patches with irregular borders; and melanoma appears as “ugly duckling” moles that do not resemble other “regular” moles, and has the highest fatality rate.
To guard against sun damage and lower your risk, it’s important to take a few precautions every time you go riding. Of course, sunscreen is an obvious choice.
Sunscreens work to either deflect the sun’s rays or absorb them before they make contact with the skin’s surface. The sun protection factor, or SPF, indicates how long it can postpone sunburn. For example, an SPF 15 should delay a sunburn 15 times longer than it takes for unprotected skin to burn. This measure only pertains to ultraviolet (UV) B waves, which are the shorter of the two types of UV rays that break through the ozone layer. For protection against UVA rays, you need a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which contains zinc oxide, avobenzone (Parsol 1789), or ecamsule (Mexoryl).
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends everyone, regardless of natural skin color or tone, wear an SPF 15. If you have fair skin, freckles, or a family history of skin cancer, choose a higher SPF.
To get the best protection, apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before heading out the door—it’s better to overdo it than to under-apply and pay the price of damaged skin. Make sure to use it on all exposed skin, including face, neck and ears, and don’t forget your lips. Smooth on a lip balm with an SPF 15 or higher.
Also, don’t let the weather fool you. UV rays penetrate through clouds and windy conditions can be misleading because they keep you cooler so you might not recognize the symptoms of sunburn until it’s too late. And finally, if you bike year-round, then use sunscreen year round, too.