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It’s important to expose your skin to sunshine for vitamin D and it’s nice to get a tan while doing it. But radiation from the sun has its dangers too. If you overdo it, you might be increasing your risk for cancer and accelerating your skin ageing. Let’s see how to best protect yourself so you can ride in the sun as much as you want without suffering dire consequences.

Research shows that exposure to UV rays from the sun is responsible for up to 80 % of visible facial ageing signs like wrinkles, pigmentation, and reduced elasticity. Plus, UV is also the most serious threat regarding skin cancer. Here are three essential things to do to avoid skin damage.

Apply sunscreen 20-30 minutes before your ride, even when it’s not sunny.

Use sunscreen properly

There are many different SPF choices when it comes to sunscreen. SPF, or sun protection factor, measures how much solar energy is required to cause sunburn when you’re wearing sunscreen compared with unprotected skin. For example, an SPF 30 prevents 97 % of UVB rays from reaching your skin and SPF 50 blocks 98 %. It’s important to remember that while higher SPFs offer more protection, they don’t last any longer than lower numbers. If you have sensitive skin, it helps to choose mineral-based sunscreens that use a physical barrier (zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) rather than chemical. Also, avoid sprays since they often contain skin-drying alcohol.

Apply sunscreen 20-30 minutes before your ride, even when it’s not sunny. Cover thighs and the backs of your hands liberally with sun cream as they’re constantly exposed to UV rays. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours.

Froome rides next to Alejandro Valverde during the 13th stage of the 105th edition of the Tour de France cycling race, between Le Bourg-d’Oisans and Valence, on July 20, 2018. © Profimedia, AFP

Choose the right clothing

Think of clothing as your first line of defence. Sunscreen should only be for places that you can’t cover with clothes. Wear long sleeves if you’re planning to ride for a long time. Choose clothes with a close weave. You can do a simple test by holding up the material to check you can’t see through the fabric. Many manufacturers also offer clothes with a high UV rating, those are ideal for summer. Adding a visor to your helmet also helps protect your ears, nose, and lips. Alternatively, you can pop a lightweight cap underneath for some additional shade. And don’t forget about your eyes either, they can get burnt. Make sure to wear sunglasses with UV protection, even if they aren’t proper cycling ones, it’s worth it.

Avoid the strongest sun

It’s best to avoid the strongest sun altogether. The sun is the most dangerous between 11:00 and 15:00 so try to plan your rides for the morning or later in the day. If you’re doing a day trip it’s best to plan a mid-ride café stop to sit in the shade when you need it most.