Best Sun Protection for Road Cyclists: No more Sunburn


Road cycling in the sun! There is hardly anything more beautiful than clocking up some kilometres in bright sunshine under a blue sky. The sun also supports our health and fitness, because its UVB rays are essential for our organism to produce the vital vitamin D. 

But too much “solar power” may have considerable side effects – immediate sunburn, medium-term premature skin aging and skin cancer in the long run. A veritable sunburn is comparable to an injury or inflammation which the organism fights against with all means and whose healing consumes energy. As a consequence, the athletic performance suffers. 

Especially outdoor athletes like road cyclists should therefore attach great importance to good sun protection so that training and touring in the sun do not have any after-effects. 

Before applying sunscreen for the first time, you should find out about the current UV index and your personal skin type. 

This is quite simple. You’ll get information on the UV index from the (German) Meteorological Service and there are guidelines for determining your skin type. Those two factors plus the planned duration of your outdoor stay will help you choose the right sunscreen product. It is supposed to extend the time your skin’s protected against the sun. 

The sun protection factor depends on your skin type. Light skin, e.g., will only protect you from the sun for an estimated 10 minutes before it gets sunburnt. 

If you use sunscreen with sun protection factor 15 on it, you’ll increase the time in which you could theoretically be exposed to the sun by a factor of 15, i.e. to 150 minutes. However, these are just numbers games, as in these calculations and tests sunscrren is applied thickly and is not smeared or diluted by sweat and clothing.

If you want to be on the safe side, halve the theoretical value and use sun protection with a sun protection factor of more than 20. 

Tips for sun protection 

Prof. Dr. med. Christoph Abels, dermatologist and Medical Director at Dr. August Wolff, gives valuable tips on how road cyclists can protect themselves from the sun: 

Trust experts: Meanwhile, there are special products available that are not only waterproof but also sweat-resistant. “Furthermore, they should be absorbed quickly and, if possible, leave no white marks or a greasy film on the skin,” says professor Abels. 

The more, the better: A typical mistake is to use too little gel, lotion or cream. The skin must be properly covered. Especially if the sunscreen is “wiped away” by clothing, movement or sweat. It is important to re-apply sunscreen every now and then. However, the total amount of time you can be exposed to the sun is not prolonged by re-applying sunscreen. 

Apply underneath the jersey: Fabric does not always protect you against dangerous UV radiation. “Thin summer jerseys are better ventilated but can also be very UV-permeable. If the manufacturer doesn’t particularly point out UV protection, athletes should always apply sunscreen underneath the jersey,” says Abels. That’s why pro riders use sunscreen even underneath thin race jerseys or summer jerseys with large mesh inserts. 

Thin air and heavy radiation: In the mountains, the air layer that protects you against UV radiation decreases more and more the higher a road cyclist gets. According to studies, UV radiation increases by 15-20 percent per 1,000 meters of altitude difference. Abels advises: “Even when the sky is overcast, you should apply sunscreen, because even under these conditions UV radiation is so high that it can cause sunburn”. 

First aid: In case of sunburn, cyclists should avoid the sun and place moist compresses on the affected skin areas, Abels recommends. Be aware that “Not only sunburn, which is an acute tissue damage, is problematic. Chronic UV-induced photo damage can also change cells in the long term and cause skin cancer,” says Abels. Photo damage prevents cells from classic recovery by the way. 

Sexy knee: In addition to the neck, back of the foot, shoulders, ears and scalp, the back of the knee is one of the most sun-exposed areas of your body on a road bike. “These areas are partly very sun sensitive since they are otherwise hardly ever exposed to it,” says Abels