Don't let sunburn, rashes or chafing spoil your cycling when the weather is at its best. Here's how to look after your skin.
Cycling in the summer is hard to beat. It's like a reward for riding during the rest of the year. There are potential problems, however, and the interesting tan-lines you get from cycling are the least of them. Summer is also peak time for suffering from skin that is red and sore or itching…
Sunburn can be a big problem on a bike for a couple of reasons. The first is that cyclists spend longer outdoors than most people, generally in clothing that doesn't cover the arms and legs, so your exposure to UV rays is simply higher. The second is that the breeze that you generate by riding along draws the heat from your burning skin, so you're less aware that you're becoming burnt.
The sun is at its strongest between about 11am and 3pm, so at typical commuting times your risk of sunburn is limited. On a longer ride at the weekend, it's very easy to burn, even if it's merely a pleasant day rather than one that's blazing hot. Get a high SPF sun cream that's advertised as sweat-resistant and apply it liberally, paying special attention to: the upper side of your thighs, between knees or shorts; the top side of your arms, from wrists to sleeves; the back of your neck; the tops of your ears; your nose and cheekbones; and, if you're losing your hair, the top of your head. If you'll be out for more than a couple of hours, it's worth taking sun cream with you so you can re-apply it, particularly if you're fair skinned. You don't have to take the bottle; sun cream is available in sachets, so can easily be carried in a jersey pocket.
The alternative to sun cream is to cover up with long-sleeved, lightweight clothing.
'Windburn' is sunburn that you get when wind or lower temperatures mask the burning effect of the sun's rays. The wind doesn't burn you as such. What it will do is dry out your skin. While it's worse in cold, dry weather than the heat of the summer, you may still need moisturiser. Even old-school blokes who scoff at the idea of moisturiser should try it whenever cycling to work comes right after a wet-shave.
Your lips will dry out the most, as they don't have oil glands like the rest of your skin. Again, cold weather is worst but they can still become dry and cracked in summer. If it's a problem for you, use lip balm – one with SPF if you'll be out in the hot sun.
Sweat & rashes
Sweat is only a problem if you end up sitting around all day in sweaty clothes. It's not great for your co-workers and it increases the chances of you getting a skin rash… or something even less pleasant, like jock itch. The are two opposite ways to deal with this: ride as fast as you like and then shower and change when you get to work; or avoid getting hot and sweaty in the first place. Don't carry luggage on your back. Slow down. Undo a button or two, or a jersey zip, and leave things untucked so that air can circulate.
Those aren't the only two options, however. If you don't have access to a shower, take wet wipes or a flannel (in a plastic bag) so you can at least wash face, armpits and groin. If you commute in normal clothes and it's only your cotton underwear that gets a bit sweaty, either invest in some that doesn't get clammy, such as merino wool or a polyester/lycra blend, or take a spare pair.
These measures should solve most rash issues. If not, change your washing powder - use pure soap with no whiteners or brighteners and no conditioner – and take that post-ride shower.
If your nether regions get chafed, you need to reduce friction there. That might mean changing your saddle or sitting more upright. It might also mean changing your clothing. Avoid clothing with thick seams under the crotch and don't wear clothing that rubs if it gets damp with sweat. You don't need padded lycra shorts for a short ride to work, but if you do wear them, bear in mind that they are designed to be worn without underwear.
The last resort to reduce friction, and normally only an issue for long rides, is to apply lubrication. You can use a dedicated chamois cream or else apply vaseline or a skin-care cream such as Sudocrem. Smear this over your nether regions before donning your padded shorts.
Care in the countryside
If you cycle off-road, brushing past long grass, heather and other vegetation an give you a prickly rash on your arms and legs. The best solution is to cover up. Long socks and arm warmers are useful for this, as they can be rolled up or down as required. Alternatively, invest in some antihistamine cream and apply this after the ride.
Summer is midge season too. If your commute takes you through the countryside, especially further north, you'll want antihistamine cream to deal with their bites. Avoid getting bitten by not stopping; midges don't fly very quickly. Covering up is effective too.