How to Prevent Sunburn While Cycling

Written by : Mr Mamil
Last updated :

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Almost every time you ride on the road, you’re silently exposed to harmful UV rays. Contrary to popular belief, there are still UV rays on cloudy days. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ride outside.

There are three different types of UV radiation; UVA, UVB, and UVC.

  • UVA has the longest wavelengths, followed by UVB and UVC. UVA can penetrate your skin’s middle layer (the dermis) because of its longer wavelengths.
  • All UVA and some UVB rays are transmitted through the atmosphere, while all UVC rays are absorbed by the Earth’s ozone layer.
  • UVA and UVB rays that make it through the ozone layer eventually make their way down onto your exposed skin.

In this article, we’ll discuss the four common methods cyclists use to prevent sunburn while cycling.

Apply sunscreens before leaving home

Sunscreen is your first level of protection in the fight against UV exposure. You’ll find many products dedicated to protecting your skin from the sun at the local drugstore.

Sometimes, choosing the right kind and knowing how to use it is as crucial as getting a PR on a challenging segment on Strava.

Generally, there are three different types of applied sun protection.

  1. Sunscreen comprises chemicals absorbed into the skin, which convert incoming UV rays into heat.
  2. Sunblock. Also known as mineral sunscreen because it utilizes minerals that act as a physical barrier by reflecting UV rays.
  3. Broad-Spectrum sunscreen. Protects you by using ingredients from both chemical and mineral sunscreens.

Sunscreen is the most beneficial to cyclists due to sunblock (mineral sunscreen) being ineffective on sweaty skin.

Mineral sunscreen benefits dry skin, which will be rare during cycling. Since it’s just a barrier, all your sweat will quickly push it off.

Choose the ideal time to ride

During the summer months, with the sun being higher in the sky, the UV rays are spread across a smaller area than during the winter.

This explains why the UV is more intense during summer and also during noon vs. mornings or evenings. A UV index indicates the UV’s intensity. The higher the index is, the higher the intensity.

Generally, the UV rays are the most intense at noon when the sun is highest in the sky.

UV indexUV levelsRecommended protection
1 to 2LowUse SPF 30+ sunscreen
Wear sunglasses
3 to 5ModerateUse SPF 30+ sunscreen
Wear sunglasses
Stay in the shade during mid-day
6 to 7HighUse SPF 30+ sunscreen
Wear sunglasses
Cover up limbs and wear a hat
Seek shade if possible
Avoid outdoors from 11am to 5pm
8 to 10Very highUse SPF 30+ sunscreen generously, reapply every 2 hours if cycling/sweating
Wear sunglasses
Cover up limbs and wear a hat
Seek shade if possible
Avoid outdoors from 11am to 5pm
Above 11ExtremeAvoid outdoors from 10am to 5pm

So it’s best to avoid riding during the noon time. Instead, plan your rides to finish before noon time. If you’re going for a longer ride, then start earlier.

Be aware of higher UV exposure at higher altitude

Besides choosing the ideal time of the day to ride, you also need to be aware of the effects of UV exposure at altitude. Those who like to ride in the mountains pride themselves on bagging as many elevation gains as possible on giant mountains.

As you go up in altitude, so does your risk for higher UV exposure.

There is less atmosphere to absorb the UV rays at higher altitudes.

Take some time to consider before fully unzipping your jersey, as this opens up the possibility for more exposure to UV due to much of it being reflected off various surfaces you’ll ride across.

Wear sunglasses

Not only do sunglasses look great and make you feel fast, but they also offer UV protection for your eyes.

Nearly all quality sunglasses made today offer protection against UVA and UVB rays. This is usually achieved through lens coatings, but some lenses can absorb UV rays.

For the absolute best eye protection, wear lenses that will block out anywhere between 75 to 90% of light during full sun. On cloudy days 35 to 50% will do the trick.

Sometimes, they’re referred to as Visible Light Transmission or VLT. Fortunately, many sunglasses can swap out different lenses.