Thursday, June 9, 2016

Biking & Skin Care: How to protect your skin when out for a ride

I ride a bike every weekend and sometimes on weekdays if I have time. How can I keep my skin (especially my face) protected from all the sun I know I am getting?

If you are an ardent cyclist out on your bike for many hours each week, or even just a weekend warrior, you’ll have a tough job protecting your skin from the sun. Like any activity that keeps you in the sunlight for extended periods of time, cycling is going to create an environment for sun damage to occur—there are no two ways around it. Sun exposure and sun damage are one and the same.

Many years ago, in my late 20s, I was an avid cyclist. I even got a license to race. My biking schedule consisted of sitting in the saddle at least 10-20 miles a day during the work week and well over 100 miles on the weekends. I cycled in the cold, the heat of a Texas summer, wind, rain—you name it, I was on my bike. When it came time to protect my face, I kept running across a problem: how to do it.

Cycling caps, in case you’ve never seen one, have a bill only a few inches long—probably 1/4 the length of a baseball cap’s bill. I always assumed they were just for show; certainly they were not meant to keep sun off the face. Since these caps offer almost no protection from the sun, I wore a baseball cap under my helmet. I got teased by all the guys I rode with because of it, but I didn’t care. Protecting my face was more important to me than making a fashion statement.

One problem with wearing baseball caps while riding a bike is you might have some problems with obstruction of vision. Different bikes have different handle bars. Some keep your posture more upright than others. Regardless of my position on the bike, I know that even when I wore the baseball cap under my helmet, I still got a lot of sun.

As you (hopefully) already know, baseball caps and visors offer very little in the way of protecting your face from full-on sun exposure. The only parts of your face that are shielded from the sun are your forehead and a little bit of your nose; the lower half and both sides of your face are totally and continually exposed to UV rays. Take that information and add to it a 30, 60, or even a 90-minute bike ride and you can see how easily you will accumulate a lot of sun exposure while riding your bike.

This kind of exposure is really no different than driving in a convertible with the top down, lying on the beach, or playing golf. The position of your body will be different with each activity, and the clothing—or lack of it—is certainly a factor, but exposure is exposure. As I will say over and over again, the sun does not make any distinction about the kind of activity you are engaged in versus how much UV light will be absorbed into your skin.

Obviously, the number one course of action is to wear sunscreen. You always want to have waterproof sunscreen all over your face, neck, tops and backs of ears, hands, body—every nook and cranny that will be exposed to the sun while you are out enjoying your bike ride. Make sure to get sunscreen up under your clothes where they meet your skin. While exercising, clothing can ride up and slide a round, so be sure to protect those areas of skin just at the edge of your clothes.

You might consider wearing a pure zinc product (at least on your nose and mouth) that will offer a physical block from UV light while on a long bike ride. True zinc oxide is pure white and does not absorb into your skin. You may look silly in someone’s eyes, but better that than having part of your nose cut off in order to get all the cancer cells out of your face. (If you doubt my seriousness, just ask your dermatologist about the potential disfiguring results of long-term overexposure coupled with waiting too long to have cancerous lesions removed. It can be an eye-opening experience, to say the very least.) If you are prone to chloasma (dark patches of pigmentation) you may want to spread some zinc on those places to keep them from getting darker.

Wearing a baseball cap under your helmet will help. You can also tie a bandana around your head, fully covering your forehead at least. This will also help to absorb sweat, preventing it from dripping into your eyes while you are cycling.

Dehydration can also be a factor when you are exercising outside for extended periods of time. If you become dehydrated, your skin will be more susceptible to burning. To state the obvious, drinking a lot of water is crucial in this or any exercising scenario. You can easily carry large amounts of water with you in the form of a Camelbak® waterpack. These came out just as I was ending the cycling phase of my life; they are a wonderful invention, and you probably already have one for your long (or even short) excursions. Your bike will also have one or two cages to put water bottles in. Fill these up and use them too. While exercising, you can’t have too much water to drink.

For a little extra boost, I always liked to keep a few packets of Emergen-C with me during a long ride. (Emergen-C is a powder vitamin C supplement that can be found at most health food and some grocery stores.) I would open a packet, suck on the powder, and immediately feel refreshed. The sourness of the vitamin C would make my mouth water, helping with dry mouth.

Chewable vitamin C tablets are another helpful alternative during a long ride. These chewables (although I usually suck on them instead) will help keep your mouth from getting dry while at the same time get vitamin C into your system. I like to take these when I go for long hikes. I have them at my office for my clients as well.

Depending on where you began your ride, you might still be a car ride away from a nice hot shower. If you are not riding your bike directly home, you may want to have extra water in the car so you can at least thoroughly rinse off your face before arriving home. This way you will avoid letting all that sweat, dirt, and debris just sit on your skin causing the potential for irritation and possibly breakout.

I would also recommend slathering your sun-soaked body with aloe vera gel following your shower. Aloe will help replace the water lost during sun exposure on the surface of your skin, along with providing amino acids to help your sun-drenched cells replenish themselves.

The bottom line when trying to protect your skin while cycling is being extra diligent and knowing you are getting some amount of exposure no matter how protected you may be or feel. There is only so much you can do; then you have to live your life, enjoy yourself, and in this case, ride your bike.

There isn’t really an ironclad, foolproof answer to the question of how to protect your face while bicycling. But wearing a baseball cap and/or bandana, using a waterproof sunscreen and possibly zinc oxide, and drinking lots of water are all important factors in helping to protect your skin while on your bike.

For other exercise-related articles, see: