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One way to get faster, it seems, is to leave the city cycling paths (which are often shaded by trees) and to head to long stretches on country roads.

On 4+ hour rides my arms get scorched from the sun, and it's cumulative. This is the case despite applying a famous-brand high-SPF sport-specific cream at the start. Reapplying every hour or two is not a great solution. It seems better to cover up.

Many "arm warmers" in the form of sleeves are available on the market, and these could potentially be used even in 30-35°C weather, subject to drinking a bit more along the ride, but the overheating would be unpleasant.

The very seasoned (from their looks they seem to spend entire days riding) cyclists that I encounter have almost always covered forearms, sometimes with what looks like a material that sits just a few millimeters from the skin—one with ventilation holes. Rather than make a U-turn and ask them, I thought I'd ask here.

What is a good fabric to protect forearms in 30+°C weather?

Companion question: Vuelta a España, Tour de France, and Giro d'Italia take place in the height of summer, and the very many competitors ride far longer and in arbitrary weather. Yet they don't seem to bake their skin from the sun, and they certainly neither stop to reapply creams nor wear arm covers. What solution do they use?

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  • Most pro cyclists have some tan. Hence why they don’t have to stop to re-apply sun screen. I’m an average white European person and after a week of summer bike touring I have enough tan to only need some cheap SPF20 sun screen in the morning for a whole day in the sun.
    – Michael
    Sep 30 '21 at 12:51
  • @Michael tan is only another factor of about 2-4 though. It is even, and a good baseline, though if you switch to shorter shorts or shorter sleeved jerseys late in summer you can get a burn line (unlike the pros, I have a pretty random assortment of kit and have got caught out)
    – Chris H
    Oct 1 '21 at 7:36
  • 2
    Pretty sure the temperature has less to do with your risk of sunburn than UV index for the location, cloud cover, and time of year... Oct 1 '21 at 18:49
  • @AlexanderNied Sweating in hot weather washes off the suncream though.
    – Szabolcs
    Oct 1 '21 at 19:06
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    @AlexanderNied The point is that if the temperature is 15, 20, or even 25°C, then shielding from the sun is pretty easy: just wear a long-sleeved known-SPF jersey (along with longer "shorts"). But the warmer it gets, the harder it is to cover up.
    – Sam
    Oct 1 '21 at 19:11
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Good information Here and Here

While I would reapply at least once on a long ride, for most people a high quality high (50+) UPV sunscreen designed for sports and water use should last all day on a cycle (This is my personal experience, most recommendations from health authorities are 2 hours between reapplication). Personally I find ones sold for kids use at the beach are the best, as they tend to be formulated to stay on in preference to smelling nice or not being greasy.

Its not like at the beach where you are wiping you arms with a towel regularly. For those with very fair skin, or who have not built up a suntan from being outside, then extra protection is worth considering.

Generally darker clothing offers higher protection, but the material used makes a big difference. If its too thin, or stretched tightly, then the UPF can be much lower than you would expect. Some materials absorb UV better than others. Cotton is fairly good, but clothing that specifically designed for cycling would be best, these usually come in high tech fabrics specifically for UV protection.

If you want, protective sleeves with UPF ratings are available as well

Where I live in New Zealand, UV levels are extremely high. I MTB and use a cheap light weight long sleeve cotton Tee in these conditions, as its not high tech with a UPV rating, I put sunscreen on as well just to be sure I am safe.

Do not forget your upper thighs (below the cycle shorts), face and neck protection. Also your back, if using too thin shirt can get burnt.

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    To be more specific, the OP can look at the “arm screens” and “arm coolers” described in the Bicycling link. I’ve usually heard the latter term, but they are clearly synonyms.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Sep 29 '21 at 23:16
  • 1
    One gotcha can be helmet vents - specially if you have short hair or a recent haircut.. I personally wear "arm warmers" which are actually white surgical leg compresses and work really well for keeping cool. I even found some white arm warmers which are some technical fabric, and they are perceptibly cooler when the air is moving.
    – Criggie
    Sep 30 '21 at 1:58
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    @Sam the "glow" you describe is fluorescence, and it went out of fashion after the 80s. What really happens is that with light fabrics the light just scatters in every direction, including through the fabric. With dark fabric or dark skin for that matter the dark pigment absorbs more of the energy.
    – ojs
    Sep 30 '21 at 7:47
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    @mattnz Very nice pointers and thoughts, except that wearing cotton against the skin is very problematic if/when one starts to sweat. The cotton feels like a wet towel (that remains wet) chaffing the skin. The extra ventilation on forearms (compared, say, to one's back) possibly means that the water in cotton on the forearms would evaporate faster. Still, that preludes going out when there is any chance of rain.
    – Sam
    Sep 30 '21 at 11:04
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    I'm also from NZ and mountain bike, although currently living in Canada. I wear long sleeve merino jerseys for riding. I don't like the feel of sunscreen so choose to cover up instead. I find a thin merino material to be the best for riding in, it's light, thin, breathable, sweat wicking and provides a reasonable level of UV protection. I wear Mons Royale tops who claim to have a UV rating between 35-50 depending a thickness.
    – DWGKNZ
    Sep 30 '21 at 15:12
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Don't forget how quick the pro racers are. Their exposure is far less, so they don't need to reapply sunscreen.

It's possible you burn very easily. It's also possible you're not using enough (it needs to go on quite thick), that you miss bits and burn in small areas, or that it gets rubbed away. I definitely overlap sunscreen with my jersey sleeves and shorts legs, but if I burn, it's at those edges. You can mitigate this: apply one dose of sunscreen first thing, before breakfast and before getting your rising gear on (or roll your shorts up and leave your jersey off). Be sure to cover further than you think you need around the edges, including gloves, where I just cover the backs of my hands, and around any wristwatch. When you're just about to depart, apply another lot of sunscreen. You probably won't get as much to soak in, and it won't double the protection, but it will fill in any missing bits. Letting the first dose soak in will protect against rubbing to some extent.

I did a TdF mountain stage (turned into a 200km loop, and with a modified start). It was won by Warren Barguil in 4:40. I was out for over 12 hours, or 11.5 hours discounting the descent the pros missed out on (they also missed out on a rather large pizza between the two massive climbs). That's a factor of around 2.5.

I started with factor 50 applied at about 0730, and topped up in the early afternoon when I was stopped in some shade anyway. That was fine, and I've got fairly pale skin to start with.

The pros do occasionally start with sleeves on. Thin ones ("arm coolers", though I suspect the name is more derived from "arm warmers" than accurate) are available that provide decent sun protection, though I haven't used them personally. With the right riding skills they can be taken off on a climb while riding with no hands; I've seen experienced riders do this. These sleeves are made from thin, close-fitting, and even fabric. They don't have holes that would allow spots to burn, but instead wick the sweat to the surface where it evaporates quickly, providing almost as much cooling as if it evaporated directly on the skin.

You're right that arm warmers get horribly sweaty. They're a useful stopgap when touring, as I found when I was surprised by how sunny it was in a notoriously rainy place, had no suncream with me, and got a little burnt.

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  • I once had to use arm warmers after a sun burn as well. Fleecy black Craft arm warmers in 35°C midsummer sun. They are surprisingly cool once completely soaked in sweat. I imagined you could also intentionally soak them. You can easily roll them down to the wrists when you don’t need them without stopping.
    – Michael
    Sep 30 '21 at 14:17
  • @Michael they look quite similar to my Endura ones, except mine are water-repellent and block the wind fairly well. A deliberate soaking would have been worth a try, but they felt dry on the outside while wet inside. I have to stop briefly to roll mine down - or at least I did before a year of intermittent lockdowns shrank my biceps (and before that a crash that put my left arm out of action for a while - coincidentally the day I wore the arm warmers as sunblock)
    – Chris H
    Sep 30 '21 at 14:53
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There are arm and leg "coolers" that will have UPF ratings (UPF is the clothing equivalent of SPF), and lightweight long-sleeved jerseys as well. They're all polyester/lycra or polyamide/lycra, as far as I can tell, as is a lot of cycling gear (apparently nylon/lycra is not effective as a sunblock, and is also hygroscopic, which leads to its faster deterioration). Lennard Zinn touched on this a bit in a column, echoing some of what mattnz said here.

I live in a hot climate and have switched entirely to long-sleeved jerseys. I get some tan-through, but it's considerably reduced. I use zinc-based sunblock on my face, and that has lasted through some long rides without reapplication, but it does lend a zombie-like pallor.

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There is now a company called Lumiton making sports apparel that converts the high-intensity sunlight in low-intensity red and near-infrared light. This has the effect of keeping your skin cooler and removing all of the UV exposure. There are also some health benefits to the red and NIR light in scientific studies. If you aren't wanting to apply and re-apply sunscreen for your rides, this might be a good solution.

https://lumiton.com/

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