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I have decided that, lack of sunburn aside, I need to get back to being pretty serious about UV protection. I've been sloppy about it for a few years, and would like to not continue inviting skin cancer.

I'm on my bike for 90 to 120 minutes every day, about 45 minutes in the morning and 55 minutes in the evening. But, I'm in Austin, which means intense ambient heat and intense sun during the summer. Sometimes I resent stop lights because they leave me sitting in direct sunlight with absolutely no air flow to cool me down. Sometimes it's so hot that doesn't do any good, anyway.

So far as I see it, my options are to lather up my arms, legs, and face with sunscreen twice a day, adding on a hat beneath my helmet (or getting a solid helmet); or to get some of the UV-protective clothing like what Izumi makes and wear that on most of my rides, though that means extra cloth on my arms, legs, and hands, and thus more gear that I have to cope with.

Clothing appeals from a reusability standpoint. It might also help by reflecting more sunlight and thus more heat.

Sunscreen appeals from a "not putting on cloth that traps heat" pespective.

So, in bright/hot areas, which is more comfortable? Should I just try both and see which I find more comfortable? Even more importantly, which provides adequate protection?

And, if parts of my body are not tanning at all (such as, under my shirt), am I actually getting adequate protection there?

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Quick fact: there are some fabrics (most probably technical fabrics dedicated to sport use) that have built-in UV protection. That is to say that not necessarily every fabric is able to block UV, even if it blocks light (makes shadow) and infra-red (avoids the heat). Also, Wikipedia has an article that seems to be worth reading about sunburn and its mechanisms: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunburn –  heltonbiker Jun 21 '12 at 19:18
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It should be noted that, while the heat from the sun may seem intense in the morning and evening, because of the sun angle and the distance the light must travel through the atmosphere, the intensity of UV is greatly reduced. As it turns out, this chart is almost exactly at the Dallas latitude; Austin is a touch farther south. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 21 '12 at 19:29
    
Both are good notes. All of my cycling is done by 10am every day, and I'm not back out until about 6:30pm at the earliest, especially now that summer has arrived. Some of the comments on the Wiki page about sunscreen penetrating the skin rather frightens me, though. –  Savanni D'Gerinel Jun 22 '12 at 15:46
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3 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Clothing is a good choice for sun block while cycling. Unlike walking or standing still, there's always a breeze as long as you are pedaling which increases comfort. Long sleeves and long pants may be comfortable on a bike in hot weather even when they are uncomfortable indoors or walking outdoors.

Pros for Sunscreen as sun protection while biking

  1. It's invisible.
  2. You can wear whatever you want.

Pros for clothing as sun protection while biking

  1. Unlike sunscreen, it doesn't wear out after 80 minutes. You are never left wondering if it's time to re-apply or not.
  2. While you may find that your sunscreen has run out half-way through a multi-hour ride (as I recently did), you are less likely to find yourself unexpected naked half-way through a ride.
  3. Regular clothing often has some amount of UV protection. While you might need to opt for full-coverage clothing, you don't necessarily need special clothing
  4. Doesn't involve covering your skin in chemicals.
  5. Don't have that covered-in-sunblock feeling at the end of a ride.

Here's a photo of clothing-as-sunscreen before I departed with a friend on a 114 mile day on loaded touring bikes:

departure

On a trip this past weekend I decided to spray-on sun-block instead. We I went to re-apply some half-way through the trip, I found the canister was empty. Sunblock-Fail.

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Add: Clothing is often cooler. Depends on the climate, but by reflecting more heat and allowing air penetration properly designed clothing feels cooler. –  Kohi Jun 22 '12 at 3:22
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What was the temperature you guys were riding through on this trip? What kind of fabric were you wearing, and how good was it at wicking, drying, and keeping you cool? –  Savanni D'Gerinel Jun 22 '12 at 15:48
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I like wearing a clean long-sleeved shirt of e.g. thin cotton or cotton/poly. It is hot so I perspire. So I am cycling in the (endless) breeze, and wearing a wet shirt, which is cooling.

Beware: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11312422 concludes,

  • The two cotton fabrics used in this study offered limited protection against UV radiation
  • Laundering with detergent and water improves UPF slightly by causing fabric shrinkage.
  • Dyeing fabrics [to blue or yellow] or adding a UV-absorbing agent during laundering substantially reduces UV transmission and increases UPF.
  • More UVA is transmitted through the fabrics than UVB.
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Indeed. The red shirt from the above answer, unbuttoned, is the perfect ultimate upper body clothing for touring (i.e. 6 hours in the sun, no backpack). It provides more ventilation than riding bare chest! –  Vorac Nov 20 '13 at 16:06
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Sunscreen pros

  • Allows use only on body locations preferred.
  • You can alter the SPF to whatever the situation requires.
  • Can be used for other outdoor activities besides cycling.

Sunscreen cons

  • The price can be rather high for a SPF above 35.
  • It will come off with sweat and will need to be re-applied during a longer ride.
  • You must keep it out of your eyes!

UV protective clothing pros

  • Protects without feeling "clammy", greasy like a sunscreen can.
  • You won't have to worry about re-applying sunscreen during a ride, although you may still need some sunscreen for your neck and ear area.
  • It can actually move the sweat away from your skin for better cooling.

UV protective clothing cons

  • The UV protective clothing can be expensive initially.
  • May need to be laundered using special UV detergent.
  • Usually loses the UV protection capability after a certain number of washings.

It really boils down to personal preference, or using a combination of the two.

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how does removing sweat from the skin improve cooling? The cooling effect of sweat occurs through the evaporation of the water. You shouldn't wipe it off.. –  anaheim Jun 27 '13 at 19:04
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