The Top 3 Ways Bicycling Can Hurt Your Skin and What to Do About It

Riding a bicycle is of course a whole body activity, and one part that is often overlooked but key to keeping healthy is the epidermis. There are lots of things that can hurt the wrapping of your meat sack. There are things that can take you off the bicycle, from chafing to road rash, sunburn and even skin cancer, So it’s important to prevent what damage you can to your flesh blanket. OK, I’m out of words for skin, so let’s get into it. Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor so refer to one for more information. And I don’t get paid for mentioning these brands, though I wouldn’t mind it.

Don’t Be a Sun Worshipper

Where I live in Central Texas we’re able to bike year-round thanks to the sunny, warm weather. But with that comes heat and Ultra Violet rays (UVA and UVA) that can burn your skin and even cause cancer. If you live in a place that doesn’t get as hot, remember that you can get too much sun on a winter day, too). As a dude of the Caucasian persuasion, I have to be very careful given how much melanin my skin lacks and how much I bike. Everyone should be careful with the sun though, it can burn anyone.

What to Do About It:

  • Physical barriers are best, like hats with long brims and neck protection, long sleeve shirts and pants. One alternative is sun sleeves. I recently got some Pearl Izumi from Sun & Ski Sports, and they’re great. That’s because I don’t have to use sunscreen on my arms, and when they get wet with sweat, they work as a cooling device. They make them for your legs, too.
  • When those aren’t practical or available, sunscreen is a must. Anything over a SPF rating of 50 is probably a waste. But it should cover UVA and UVB aka broad spectrum. With renewed concerns about the chemicals in them, you want to choose brands without hormone-disrupting crap. I use zinc oxide kinds and in particular EltaMD. It goes on thin and dermatologists highly recommend it.
  • Hydrate before during and after riding, and moisturize when you’re home. You could also try Heliocare, an herb popular in Europe that appears to have a mild SPF effect. Again, I’m not a doctor, though one recommended it to me.

Don’t Be a Bum-mer

Nothing will take you off your bike faster than a saddle sore. You know, the nasty pustules that form from a hair follicle or badly fitting Lycra or just regular undergarments. If you’re a fathlete like me, there’s more of you to love. So chafing is a fact of life, even if you’re on the skinny side. So it’s very important what you wear down there to prevent these buggers and other related chafing which can be almost as bad.

What to Do About It:

  • As hinted at above, make sure you wear bicycling shorts and that they fit you well. They should be snug but not cut off circulation, and have a good chamois pad. It’s not usually chamois anymore but that’s what they call it. Sugoi makes a good pair, as do many of the other brands. Don’t skimp on these, and replace them as needed.
  • Bib shorts in particular, the kind that have the overall type straps, can help you “lock it in” as a bike buddy Rafael once mentioned. Meaning you secure your naughty bits to reduce chafing. He gave me a bunch that didn’t fit him. Initially skeptical, I’m now a convert, at least for longer rides.
  • The best way to prevent problems in this area is to shower immediately after a ride and to wash your damn shorts every time.If you do get a saddle sore, I’ve found Neosporin clears it right up. For ongoing protection, zinc oxide like Desitin works wonders (it’s thick, apply with a tissue). A non-talc, cornstarch or zinc powder like Ammens also does well to keep things dry.
  • Chamois Butt’r is a must-have. That or another cream (I’ve heard former pro Dave Zabriskie’s DZ-Nuts is good (plus has a great name). You apply it to the padding in your shorts and to your skin to create a barrier and protect it from the dreaded chafe.

Don’t Do Anything Rash

Crashes are the worst, in more ways than one. I’ve had a few spills, myself, and they SUUUCCCKKK! It’s bad enough that you’re banged up, bleeding, skin layers taken off, lying there in a ditch, after hitting that rock or pothole you didn’t see (and hopefully not hit by a car). Of course you have to worry about your bike and if she’s ok, too.. But there’s a particular kind of torture if you also get debris in the scraped off parts.

What to Do About It:

  • Don’t crash in the first place. Keeping the rubber side down is the first and perhaps the most important lesson in Cycling 101. This is obviously an ongoing moment-by-moment challenge, and sometimes mistakes are made or accidents happen. But watching your speed and your surroundings at all times, learning the rules of Safe Cycling, and not going on group rides with people way above your level, are just a few ways to improve your odds.
  • When you do crash, which if you ride your bike enough will happen, there are things to do. First, of course if you can, get out of danger like the paths of cars and other cyclists. If you’re horribly injured and people are with you diverting traffic, don’t move and wait for help. You’ll want to assess the damage. Take a moment, because you may be in shock. If you’re certain nothing’s broken and you have scrapes, you can dump your water bottle on them. Unless it’s too deep, like you see fatty globules and it won’t stop bleeding, get to the hospital stat!
  • Try to stop the bleeding with direct pressure and if you can put on some sort of covering until you get home. Once there, thoroughly clean but not with anything harsh like hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol. Those damage the skin. Dress it with gauze and change regularly. Vaseline can keep the skin from scabbing too soon and scarring, but be aware of infection; you may need to switch to an antibiotic cream like Neosporin.
  • The soreness and bruises will compound the pain, so you may need to take a few days off, depending how bad the fall was.

Well, that’s what I’ve learned from my experiences biking over 23,000 miles so far in four and a half years (the link takes you to my Strava – follow me there!). But what do I know, you know? There’s always more to learn.

What have YOU learned about skin care and bike riding?

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8 thoughts on “The Top 3 Ways Bicycling Can Hurt Your Skin and What to Do About It

    1. UV really is bad 4 U but if you protect yourself we’re all gonna die, maybe now a lot sooner than planned. But before 10 and after 4 it’s good depending wear you live. At 5:42 pm it’s 101°F here but the UV is just 3. Vitamin D may help protect against COVID and taken by pill may help but sunlight is best. And just being outside in nature does wonders for the mood.

      Liked by 1 person

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