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  1. #1
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    handling sun exposure?

    I'm a grad student conducting research that involves zapping mosquitoes with UV light, and it's starting to make me paranoid about sun exposure. I know several entomologists who look DECADES older than they are after spending years in the field.

    I'm wondering how different people deal with sun-exposure day after day while on tour. Anyone go out of their way to cover up skin (long sleeves, etc.)? or just sunscreen up? Do any of the old-timers (pardon the term) notice any long-term effects after many years of touring?

    Of course, staying indoors just isn't worth it, so I won't let the paranoia stop me. This is probably an issue where the benefits outstrip the costs.

  2. #2
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    I did an 8 day tour in Thailand and wore a long sleave shirt for the first time. The sun is pretty strong there and I decided not to subject myself to that anymore. Sun screen works until it sweats off (quick in Thailand), but long sleave, thats the way I will go in the future.

    On my legs I will use sunscreen as they don't sweat as much and the angle to the sun seems to cause less exposure.

    Face and neck are protected also by sunscreen and the shad from the helmet.

    The first tour on the link below is a tour in a long sleave shirt in 90 degree plus temps.

    http://eastbaybob.crazyguyonabike.com

  3. #3
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    Sunscreen is ok, but for prolonged touring, I find full coverage in intense sun is best. In midday sun even if its really hot out, you'll be cooler with a long-sleeve wicking jersey (white is best) and even lightwight tights than with a short sleeve jersey and shorts, since your skin will be frying. I have yet to find white tights, but would snatch a pair up in a heartbeat. plus, applying loads of sunscreen every day is just disgusting, not to mention how it stings your eyes when you sweat and it stains your clothes. I wear a ball cap under my helmet and on one tour even wore a balaclava to keep the sun off my face. try zinc oxide on the high exposure face areas (nose, ears, cheeks) - and don't forget to cover the neck!

    A bad sunburn on tour is horrible and a potential trip ender. Even if it's only moderate exposure, it absolutely saps your energy. Minimizing mid-day riding is good, too. best to be diligent and get moving at the crack of dawn. then knock off from 10.30 til 2 and bust ass the rest of the day. It's easy to get in 8-10 hours even with a midday break if you start first thing.

    I am fair-skinned and possibly a bit over-cautious, but growing up in Phoenix, AZ I got too many bad sunburns to count. sunscreen is a second-best option, plus there has been some recent research suggesting that prolonged exposure to sun with suncreen increases melanoma risk, even where no sunburns occur, suggesting that cancer-causing rays are getting through.

  4. #4
    dangerous with tools halfbiked's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr_Super_Socks
    I am fair-skinned and possibly a bit over-cautious, but growing up in Phoenix, AZ I got too many bad sunburns to count. sunscreen is a second-best option, plus there has been some recent research suggesting that prolonged exposure to sun with suncreen increases melanoma risk, even where no sunburns occur, suggesting that cancer-causing rays are getting through.
    My personal theory - of which I admittedly have absolutely no proof - is that sunscreen is a contributor to skin cancer. I'd rather slowly build up a tan than rely on a chemical to protect me. In the event that the sun is too harsh for that strategy, cover up. Wide-brimmed hats (admittedly difficult on a bicycle), long sleeves, etc.

  5. #5
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    JJ -

    I am a redhead who grew up in Puerto Rico - have lived in the West since 1990 - and have somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000 miles on my bike - mostly in the West. Most years I have done tours ranging from 10 to 14 weeks. Plus I spend a lot of time out in the snow in winter.

    I tour with long-sleeves - long convertible pants - cap under my helmet and with bandana over my neck. I also wear ski liners rather than cycling gloves. I use 45+ sunscreen on my face and any part of me that gets exposed. I prefer covering up to globbing on the sunscreen for a couple of reasons - - Sunscreen can get expensive, it seems to attract bugs (that might be a plus if you're an entomologist), plus I think you are actually cooler covered up. Consider what Bedouins wear - not tank tops and shorts, that's for sure.

    I'm in my late 40s and don't have any precancerous spots even though I had some severe sunburns as a kid before good sunscreen came along. Another sun response I use is to avoid riding on scorching days between noon and three or four. Anyhoo, why be out there roasting and miserable when you can be reading a book by a creek under the shade of a cottonwood tree?

    Of course - the grey in my beard doesn't help any - my friend Rebecca insists that I use use "just a touch" of color. Hah!

    Hope this helps -

    Best - J

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    I've been considering wearing long sleeve, long pant clothing with full gloves (sounds really hot though) on future trips, and was worried that perhaps I was going overboard. It's good to know that it's a concern acknowledged by the community. The tops of my knees, and holes in my gloves have given rise to a deep permanent tan and freckles that won't go away.

    I know that fabric is much more effective in blocking UV radiation than creams, but also that some materials are much better than others. Loosely woven cottons for example can have SPFs of less than 10! and SPF of 2 when wet (sweaty), which is worse than normal sunscreen. Apparently synthetic fabrics are better, like nylon or lycra, although I'm not clear on whether white or black colors are better. White is certainly more visible, but I'd get it grungy real fast.

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    Quote Originally Posted by halfbiked
    My personal theory - of which I admittedly have absolutely no proof - is that sunscreen is a contributor to skin cancer. I'd rather slowly build up a tan than rely on a chemical to protect me. In the event that the sun is too harsh for that strategy, cover up. Wide-brimmed hats (admittedly difficult on a bicycle), long sleeves, etc.

    I suggest you are half right. Exposing oneself with sunscreen is better than exposing oneself without, but even better is protecting oneself from the sun. A big problem with sunscreen is that people apply a bit, then consider themselves protected for the entire day and try to toast like a piece of bread. No wonder they start to look like a lobster.
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by jjkane4
    I'm a grad student conducting research that involves zapping mosquitoes with UV light, and it's starting to make me paranoid about sun exposure. I know several entomologists who look DECADES older than they are after spending years in the field.

    I'm wondering how different people deal with sun-exposure day after day while on tour. Anyone go out of their way to cover up skin (long sleeves, etc.)? or just sunscreen up? Do any of the old-timers (pardon the term) notice any long-term effects after many years of touring?

    Of course, staying indoors just isn't worth it, so I won't let the paranoia stop me. This is probably an issue where the benefits outstrip the costs.

    you are totally wise to be concerned about UV exposure. these days I never ride without long sleeves.
    I have a small triangular patch of skin, directly below my neck that is totally damaged from sun exposure.
    My dad developed melanomas on his arms. You really can't be too careful.

  9. #9
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    Having a tan doesn't mean that the sun won't effect you.

    My grandfather had a tan but developed melanoma, which eventually spread throughout his body. Not a comfortable way to go.

    Currently I am trying to find a white long sleeve jersey.....

  10. #10
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    I've done several 1200 and 1000km events in weather ranging from full sun to cloud and rain. Sunburn can happen even when it is cloudy.

    I have found on all the events that once my tights go on, and a long-sleeve top, they rarely come off. It just seems to be a natural response to preventing sunburn.

    I have been burnt quite a lot on other rides. I think the worst part is the evening, when I start to feel really chilled even though the skin is red and hot. That takes a lot of energy out of me.

    I possibly will be riding in the tropics soon, and I have noted the use by other touring cyclists of cotton, long-sleeve business-type shirts (easily picked up at a Salvos/Good Samartins) and long pants. But the feature of all garments has been the larger fit to allow air to circulate inside (and probably evoporate sweat directly from the skin as an additional cooling aid.

    I have a picture somewhere (on another computer) of how a couple cut out the brims of straw hats and gaffer/duct taped them to their helmets as effective sun barriers.

    Just while we are on the subject, and as a randonneur who does a lot of night riding, why not consider riding more at night when it is cooler, the sunburn factor doesn't exist, the traffic is much, much lighter, and the scenery possibly is not worth seeing, anyway?

    As jamawani says, it's better to be under the shade of a tree next to a stream, than battling it out in hot temperatures.

  11. #11
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    Eastbaybob, how did you enjoy your ride in Thailand. Contrary to most Thais who brave out in longsleeves and black tights, I wear sleeveless to get the tan I want. I do it in short exposures at first,with frequent applications of sun block. Thankfully, I have oily skin, and with soothing lotion for after a day out, I still retain tight skin for my age. Maybe its genetics, but I owe it also to good aerobic through cycling and good diet.

  12. #12
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    Thanks for the replies, it makes me feel better about how goofy I'm going to look in my new getup. I don't know anyone in this town that enjoys touring (the bike club here emphasizes heart-rate, speed, etc.), and I get teased quite a bit by friends for my lycra wardrobe. I also wear and highly recommend goggles, which function both as sunglasses and as a shield to the swarms of mosquitoes, midges, and clouds of crop dust I occasionally bike through.

    I'd never thought about resting between 10 and 2, but setting out early and then resting between those hours is a good idea. I have a paper in front of me that states 70% of UV radiation falls between those hours. I might get sleepy or lazy though, have to give it a try.

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    Wheelin, I've only done three tours on my own and all in Thailand, and a bit of Cambodia, and I love it. The last couple have been in the NE which is fantastic to ride around. The people up there are just so cool, its just a very special feel. NW Cambodia Anlong Veng to Sisaphon had the same special feel with the added feature of very bad roads.

    As far as the sun goes, my arms are dark here in California, but the sun is just so strong there that my sun screen would get washed off a few hours into the ride. The Long sleave shirt I used was a button down, so I did on this last trip and had good ventilation.

    And Wheelin, I saw on a prior post you've toured a lot in Southern Laos, in October I was going to ride from Xepon down to Attapeu along the route of the Ho Chi Minh trail, I still have a few questions if you, or anyone else who has experience there could PM me. I might also carry on into the far NE of Cambodia, but am not sure yet. Thanks

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    Is there any human activity more exposed to UV than cycle touring? I can’t think of any. What job or recreation entails exposure to full sunlight for most of the day?

    UV is serious stuff and my partner and I treat it as such when touring. I like to explain it this way using my partner as an example: if she placed one hand on her bottom, you wouldn’t believe the hand and the bottom belonged to the same person. The skin on her bottom (rarely exposed to the sun) is not unlike a teenager’s; yet the back of her hands and the rest of her skin show significant degradation. My partner is someone who, in her younger days, rarely tried to protected her skin against UV while outside. Only when she started cycling much later in life did she begin to cover up.

    On our bikes we protect ourselves from UV with light clothing from head to toe. We don’t trust sunscreen; and apart from the expense on a long trip, we consider it an unnecessary bother to carry it. We wear a thin primary-school-type cap (compulsory in primary schools in Australia) under our helmets, long shirts, long pants, and gloves – all made of thin material. Bascially, we consider a physical barrier, clothing, to be the only real protection.

    This is probably a heresy for any fashion-conscious cyclist, but we don’t care how we look. Light, cool, baggy clothing is what we wear. Leaning over the handle bars for a few months the sun’s UV is so intense I even get a light tan on my back through my shirt. Without gloves, and suncream for other exposed skin, cyclists who go touring for months on end, will, I am sure, regret that choice in their later years when they start to develop skin cancers.

    After years of listening to skin cancer education from the Australian Government, I react with disbelief when I see a long distance cyclist, eight to ten hours in the sun each day, with no UV protection. One fellow in T-shirt, shorts and thongs was without a helmet. He’d been on the road for two years and his skin was parched and brown like old cow leather.

    Maybe I’ve developed a UV phobia, for whenever I feel the heat of direct sunlight on any part of my skin I have a strong urge to reach for a hat or move into shade.

    Cover up! That’s my suggestion.

  15. #15
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    JJ -

    About that 10 to 2 time period - - that's based on standard time and the centerline of a time zone. When biking in the summer there's an adjustment to make for daylight savings time - - thus 11 to 3 - - and another one to make depending on if you are in the western portion of a time zone. Champagne is about 11 to 3 - Omaha is 11:30 to 3:30 for local midday in the summer.

    Best - J

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rowan
    Just while we are on the subject, and as a randonneur who does a lot of night riding, why not consider riding more at night when it is cooler, the sunburn factor doesn't exist, the traffic is much, much lighter, and the scenery possibly is not worth seeing, anyway?
    When friends rode across the States, Kansas was stinking hot. After frying a couple of days, they twigged onto the idea of riding at night. Not only did they enjoy the benefits Rowan notes above, but riding across Kansas where the scenic highlight for the day may be a tree or, if you're really lucky, a dehydrated cow, they said just thinking they may be missing something made it more exciting.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Burns
    Is there any human activity more exposed to UV than cycle touring? I can’t think of any. What job or recreation entails exposure to full sunlight for most of the day?
    I am thinking that caoeing and winter activities can be particularly bad too because of the reflection of the sun on water or snow...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Burns
    Is there any human activity more exposed to UV than cycle touring? I can’t think of any. What job or recreation entails exposure to full sunlight for most of the day?

    UV is serious stuff and my partner and I treat it as such when touring. I like to explain it this way using my partner as an example: if she placed one hand on her bottom, you wouldn’t believe the hand and the bottom belonged to the same person. The skin on her bottom (rarely exposed to the sun) is not unlike a teenager’s; yet the back of her hands and the rest of her skin show significant degradation. My partner is someone who, in her younger days, rarely tried to protected her skin against UV while outside. Only when she started cycling much later in life did she begin to cover up.
    Cricket. And watching it. But they're fools anyway

    You can see many people (not jsut women) whose skin has aged beyond belief after sun abuse earlier in their lives. I'm starting to notice it myself, hence my tendency to cover up more and more as I ride more and more. Bandanas are rapidly becoming a part of my riding kit after several severe sunburns of the scalp. Broadrimmed hats still appeal, and I am looking for a collapsible one to stick in my kit.

  19. #19
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    Mtbikedude,

    I'm not going to flame you, at least I hope not, but here is what I believe is an analagous situation: My wife is from Thailand so I go there quite a bit. Another guy in the office is in his mid 50's and single. He goes to Thailand for a different reason (wink wink nod nod). After one of his trips, and listening to his tales I asked "I hope you used a condom?" "Huhhhh, no Bob, it feels so much better without one." That whole mindset to me seems sort of risky and shortsided, but to each their own.

  20. #20
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    JJ -
    For some - sun exposure is a choice - but for people with fair complexions sun exposure can have deadly results later in life. Personally I think that the previous poster will look like a lizard when he is 50, but he seems to have a good deal of melanin in his skin and that's his choice. However, the constant barrage or barely clad people in the media reinforces the belief that it is "cool" and "beautiful" to go about dressed as such and "square" to be covered up. This message is especially dangerous for young women in a society that values appearance and popularity. Skin cancer rates keep going up - and will continue to do so. I guess hell will freeze over before Hollywood presents someone with a fair complexion in long sleeves as sexy.
    Best - J

  21. #21
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jjkane4
    I'm wondering how different people deal with sun-exposure day after day while on tour. Anyone go out of their way to cover up skin (long sleeves, etc.)? or just sunscreen up? Do any of the old-timers (pardon the term) notice any long-term effects after many years of touring?
    I wear sleeveless jerseys and shorts while cycling in the heat of the summer ... with no sunscreen or other sun protection. In fact, I've hardly ever used any sort of sun protection at any time in my life, and I've spent quite a bit of my life outside. I hate the stuff. It's sticky, and when mixed with sweat it acts as a bug and dirt catcher, and I don't like the way it smells. I also hate the feeling of cycling with sleeves, although I reluctantly have to do that while cycling in the winter.

    I've been burned quite badly on severaly occasions, but recovered. I've had a suspicious portion of my skin removed (biopsy), but it was OK. And as for the aging thing ... the majority of people I've met guess my age quite a bit younger than it is.

    However, in order to help prevent that first bad burn of the season, I do fake-bake most years to build up a tanned base layer. I haven't done that this year, so I might have to be a bit more careful.

    All that said ... I did wear sunscreen (reluctantly, and because I was nagged into it) when I toured Australia . . . and I ended up coming home looking much paler than I wanted.

    Is the sun really as bad as everyone says? After all, it is a great source of Vitamin D and helps prevent SAD. If we go around all covered up, aren't we also blocking the good effects of the sun?

  22. #22
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    Machka, you are lucky to seem to not need sunscreen. Everyone has to do what is right for their particular situation.

    I have olive skin, I don't burn easily, but I never go out without sunscreen. It's not worth it to me to take that risk down the road. Skin cancers are no fun at all, and neither are wrinkles as far as I'm concerned. They sneak up on you all at once.

    I've tried different brands of sunscreen until I found one that I like and that has the effective ingredients. It did take a while of testing, however. My preferred is Neutragena Sunblock and Paula's Choice moisturizer for oily skin with SPF 15.

    Of course, taking a mid-day siesta does wonders for the skin, soul, and character of a person. Must be my Iberian roots talking. I can't get my boss to agree.

  23. #23
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    As a cyclist and a dermatologist I have read this topic with double interest. First, let me say that there is great varaition in skin types and sun response. If you are light-eyed, fair-skinned, tan minimally and burn very easily then sun protection is a critical issue. On the other hand if you are darker, tan easily, and never seem to burn then it is a less urgent issue. The light skinned individual is at much greater risk for cancer (in my practice it is rare to see a darker skinned, easy tanner with skin cancer) but the darker skinned individuals are often the ones who have the most chronic photodamage and look like old shriveled prunes in their 50s-60s. So decreasing UV exposure is important to everyone.
    So how do you do that? It is a 3 fold system- 1. avoid sun, 2. use protective clothing and 3. wear a good sunblock (SPF 30-I personally love Coppertone Sport Lotion but as long as it's SPF30 or more and waterproof it's fine. Note that new FDA regulations coming out soon will cap SPF numbers at 30 because numbers higher don't make sense and give a false impression of added protection that isn't really there)

    SUN AVOIDANCE-an hour of mid-day sun equals 5-10 times more UV than morning or late afternoon. So get up early ride to 11-take an extended lunch break and ride later into the afternnon.

    PROTECTIVE CLOTHING -as cyclists we are somewhat bent over so the big exposure areas are the neck, arms and thighs and the nose (ever see a closeup of Lance's nose?) A piece of cloth taped to the back of the helmet can protect the neck very well. A long sleeve jersey , or perhaps a very light set of arm protectors (modelled after the arm warmers we wear in the cooler weather-got an old winter jersey you can cut the sleeves off of and sew some elastic into?) will protect the arms. I am NOT a believer in the lowSPF numbers they ascribe to clothing since I have never seen anyone burn thru even a flimsy T shirt . I think they hold the cloth stationary when they do measurements and in reality the movement of the cloth greatly reduces the amount of UV that gets thru. Fabric type is up to you- here in North Carolina cotton gets soaked in 5 minutes, feels terrible and they say wet cotton transmits more UV.
    There are several companies that make great sunprotective clothing-typically they have ventilated tops cut for active users- the cloth is a tightly woven brushed nylon that feels like cotton. But I think they would be hard to wear in the summer in the southeast.
    Helmets actually do a fair job of head protection given our typical head position- an add on brim will help protect your nose/face better. I think there is actually a market for a wider brimmed helmet for better ear and nose protection- anyone know of one???

    SUNBLOCK- as I said before #30 and waterproof. The contributor who said sunblock causes skin cancer is an idiot. Reapply after lunch, esp. if you've been sweating a lot. Sweat also bothers many people as it brings the sunblock down into their eyes. My solution to this is not applying SPF to the forehead which is almost always in the shade of the helmet.
    If you are hairy like me then do try the Coppertone Sport Lotion (the #30, I find the #48 too thick)- it has a great base that doesn't gunk up hair and doesn't feel sticky at all. Hey, I get lots of sunblock for free and I buy the Coppertone.

    And don't forget a healthy dose of common sense- keep a foldup hat to wear during time off the bike and sit in the shade during lunch. And enjoy your cycling!

  24. #24
    Senior Member kf5nd's Avatar
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    There is an endless supply of white tights... try the women's lingerie department. Or, the support hose in a medical supply store are often white.


    Quote Originally Posted by Mr_Super_Socks
    I have yet to find white tights, but would snatch a pair up in a heartbeat.
    Peter Wang, LCI
    Houston, TX USA

  25. #25
    Senior Member kf5nd's Avatar
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    Yeah, but you're in Canada. Summer there lasts from 10 am until 3 pm on June 29, unless it snows on that day.


    Quote Originally Posted by Machka
    I wear sleeveless jerseys and shorts while cycling in the heat of the summer ... with no sunscreen or other sun protection.
    Peter Wang, LCI
    Houston, TX USA

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