Tips & Tricks: Riding in the Rays: Sun Protection While Cycling

Sun damage and wrinkles are never attractive, on or off the bike. Excluding beach vacations, cycling can easily be when we are most vulnerable to UV rays, as anyone who’s ever had a bad case of “sunglass tan” after riding would agree. We don’t cycle inside a toaster, so just because there’s cloud cover and cool temperatures don’t assume you won’t get burned. What you don’t see can hurt you.


For the face it is not essential that sunscreen be sweat or waterproof, as all sunscreen should be reapplied just as frequently: approximately every two hours, especially on an area where you perspire heavily. Waterproof creams and lotions can feel sticky, waxy and cause breakouts. Instead chose something comfortable that suits your skin type, is portable and easy to reapply. Sunscreen for the face and body are formulated differently and should be separate, just like soap – yes, gentlemen there is a distinction.

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Liquid Daily Sunblock SPF 70 has a lightweight formula that absorbs instantly without the telltale white residue left behind by conventional sunscreens with zinc oxide. It’s possible to layer small amounts along your ride without creating cakey build up and in a 1.4OZ bottle will barely make a dent in your back pocket.

Powder Sunscreen like Colore Science Pro Sunforgettable SPF 30 contains titanium dioxide, preferred by dermatologists because unlike chemical sunscreens it creates a physical barrier to the sun’s rays. A light coating of this super fine, water resistant powder stays put without the heavy load of waterproof lotions and is an excellent choice for oily and acne prone skin. The skin toned powder also buffs the complexion when applied with the brush applicator, especially handy when there’s no sink and soap available as it’s possible to reapply sunscreen without the potential of speeding grime or bacteria on the face from your hands.

The two kinds of products can used together for more complete protection.


Outside the obvious health benefits of wearing sunscreen, like preventing skin cancer, “cyclist’s tan” (a kin to farmer’s tan but derived from cumulative tannings in jerseys and shammy shorts) is never sexy at the beach or in the bedroom.

Sports oriented, spray-on sunscreens are easy, expedient and thorough. Avoid choosing a formula so bent on waterproofing that it coats like acrylic paint. Like shampoo it’s not about how much you use but about covering every area.

Look for products like Neutrogena Ultimate Sport SPF 100 that mists on in a fine spray, coats evenly using an effortless trigger, smells pleasant and leaves skin feeling soft. Always spray before you dress but after you butter up and be sure to air dry. You might want to close the blinds.

Scientists stress that there is no improvement in protection beyond SPF 30, yet manufacturers continue to make products up to SPF 100 because people are seduced by the allure of more protection even at greater costs. From personal experience, when forgetful about reapplication these higher protection factors seem to be more forgiving and the fairer skinned swear by it.

Ultimately if a product you like has an SPF of 30 you will be adequately protected.


For those who want to avoid a sticky mess altogether, protective clothing with built in SPF is the best alternative. Arm sleeves with SPF, which fit like arm warmers but are lightweight and moisture wicking, like Gore Bike Wear OZON III SPF 50 Arm Protectors and Louis Garneau Matrix Arm Sleeve 50 UPF/SPF provide sun protection that unlike sunscreen on skin won’t wear off no matter how long the ride. Trendy, fashion oriented alternatives are made by companies like Canari for women.

However, these need to feel comfortable enough to wear for the duration of the ride without any sun protection underneath as a backup. Even though they are designed to keep you feeling cool, on a really hot day arm warmers aren’t intuitive for everyone.

Cyclists who want to eliminate the day-long discomfort of pinching from arm sleeves may prefer long sleeve Under Armour Heat Gear shirts with 30 UPF/SPF especially in the winter, which worn underneath jerseys provide an added layer of warmth using a high tech fabric that also wicks sweat away. These multipurpose shirts are a great investment when you can use them for other outdoor activities like running, hiking and skiing.

While not a replacement for facial sunscreen, used as added protection (and to accent your getup), cycling caps or visors fit nicely underneath helmets and the bill provides shade for the face without obstructing your view. Caps mask dreaded helmet head after riding in a way that’s stylish and wearing these caps in general makes a fashion statement that embraces bike culture whether or not you’re riding. HOWEVER, caps do not replace helmets. Shielding your face from the harmful rays of the sun means nothing if your brains are scattered across the road.


Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, accounting for half of all cancers in the US. In the US alone 68,130 died from Melanoma in 2010 compared to 630 bike fatalities on the road in 2009, most likely without a helmet. Considering the lengths we’ll go to as cyclists to steer ourselves out of danger and fight for our rights in traffic, why wouldn’t we take care of matters in our own backyard to save our skin?

19 thoughts on “Tips & Tricks: Riding in the Rays: Sun Protection While Cycling

  1. Very timely article for me, thank you. I’ve been concerned about sun exposure recently and have been using sunblock every time I go out cycling, even on walks. I shudder to think about all the years of rides in the past, 8-9 hours in the Marin sun without a thought of sun protection.


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  5. Thanks, helpful.

    I live on equator and sun is pretty fierce while sweating like a river.

    Im thinking, sunscreen/zinc on face (below eyes), arm coolers, gloves and modified cap on rear of my helm to protect my neck. Legs are still exposed, need work out something for that……

    • Hi!

      For your legs you can try these leg warmers with SPF:

      I highly recommend the sunscreens by Neutrogena that I’ve mentioned here. In the tropical heat you are battling perspiration. So reapplication is KEY! Every time you stop to refill your water bottles, eat an energy bar or meal, take a photo, JUST TAKE A BREAK and wipe your face off and reapply your sunscreen.

      Good luck! If you’re really worried, you can consult a dermatologist for specific sun protection needs.

  6. The best info for Sunscreen effectiveness and safety can be found at the web site of the Environmental Working Group Look for the sunscreen ratings. It’s very eye opening regarding actual performance of the sunscreen and the safety of the ingredients. For some reason it’s easy to do a google search for Environmental Working Group Suncreen than to find it on their site.

  7. Pingback: Sun Protection Tips for Cyclists | Routes Bicycle Rentals & Tours, Inc

  8. hi my name is Tijin E Thilakh (Male)
    i am a marketer i always traveling through my motor cycle that darkening my face..what i will do..?can you pls suggest for me a protection cream.

  9. Great post guys. You illuminated me to the fact that I need to get some face specific sunscreen (yes, I was one of *those* gentlemen) and also validated my distaste of the way sweatproof products feel . From here forward it will be a lighter product that I reapply more often. Thanks so much! I was wondering if you had any advice for keeping the back and sides of the neck protected? If I can get together the guts to get back out on the road and finish a cross-country project I started years ago, I expect to be in the blazing summer sun for weeks at the time and I’m concerned that even a good sunblock regime won’t be enough. I’m experimenting now with a folded cotton bandana tied at the front of my neck during training rides which would be great protection but may get too hot. Any thoughts?

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