Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cycling and the Summer Sun

After weeks of freezing temperatures and rains, the past few days have been super-sunny, hot and humid. The rapid transition has plunged me into a frantic search through my abode for appropriate attire and sufficient sunscreen.

Complexion-wise, I am pale - with purple rather than orange undertones. Venturing out after a winter season, I tend to look like something from Flowers in the Attic. And I am ridiculously sensitive to heat and humidity, to the point where a mere stroll down a street without shade on a summer day can result in heat stroke or sun poisoning. What then, of the miles of sun-drenched bicycle routes in greater Boston?

A long bridge over the Charles River (Longfellow Bridge), its menacing sunshine ready to devour me.

A hazy view of the city from the bridge.

Massachusetts Avenue - the most popular bicycle commuters' route through Cambridge - with hardly a tree to defend from the sun's rays (picture taken pointing backwards, while stopped on red).

The way I've been dealing with the sun so far, has been mostly via the avoidance method. In my head I have a sort of alternative bicycle map of the areas where I frequently ride, with tree-lined routes at the ready if a day is sunny and hot.

I also tend to avoid being outdoors in the summer from mid-morning till late afternoon, trying my best to schedule my trips and meetings during times when the sun is gentler. Sometimes these methods work, but other times they are insufficient.


I do drink water, wear loose and light-coloured clothing, and use sunscreen - but that too has proven to have its limits. Until recently, it had always been my understanding that the potency of sunscreen beyond SPF 35 is marginal and that higher SPF numbers are mostly a gimmick (and potentially hazardous). However, last year - when cycling daily on the open roads of Cape Cod for two weeks at the end of September - I repeatedly got burned while wearing my SPF 35 sunblock. So this year I have purchased SPF 80 sunblock and pray this does the trick, while on some level being uneasy about the possible adverse effects of overusing this stuff.

If anybody has advice on this issue, please share. Last year, I noticed visible damage to the skin on my face and hands after a summer of cycling, and I want to avoid this in future. Are there other pallid and sun-averse cyclists out there, who have gotten adept at combating the sweltering heat?

39 comments:

  1. As a fair-skinned strawberry blonde with freckles, I was thrilled to death when SPFs with the high numbers came out. The highest I have is a 75, tho' I have seen higher.
    I have also heard that anything above 30 is gimmick, but for me, those higher #s mean I can stay out longer without burning. I always wear a hat and sleeves, and try to avoid the 'worst' part of the day, but sometimes it can't be helped.
    I haven't heard of the adverse effects of using the high SPFs. What have you read?

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  2. Sox - You can read a few summaries here and here. The second website has citations for research studies.

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  3. Last year I had a terrible time with my shoulders and face getting sunburned. I bought a couple of Tula hats which have HUGE brims. They are a life saver for me! Here is a link to the style I bought: http://www.tulahats.com/Scripts/PublicSite/index.php?userid=&template=ShowItemPublic&item=4428291

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  4. You look lovely and summery in the first shot! Although I'm afraid I have no advice when it comes to sun. I'm notorious for not wearing sunscreen on my commute (except for my face since my moisturizer has some SPF). Doesn't help that I hate the way it smells. Since I tan pretty easily the only visible drawback is bad tanlines but I'm sure it's not good for me.

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  5. I am fair and I don't use chemical sunblock because of studies like the ones you've cited above. The Enviromental Working group produces a list of safe and safer sunscreens here:

    http://www.ewg.org/whichsunscreensarebest/2009report

    I will offer that I am a writer, not a chemist, but it seems they've done their due diligence by citing numerous peer-reviewed studies

    http://www.ewg.org/newsrelease/whichsunscreenssafest

    And certainly the evidence is just mounting that many of the chemicals in our skincare products are not so good. I believe the EU has banned several preservatives that are still widely found in American skincare formulas because of their ability to mimic estrogen in the body.

    From my own personal experience: well, I tried bunch of the recommended nontoxic sun products. The problem of physical blocks is that they are quite heavy and tacky. The one I liked best was not heavy or tacky. It is from Marie Veronique Organics. Not cheap but has been effective for me.

    I am also a fan of the straw hats and don't tend to cycle in the hot sun. For cooling off I like to add cucumber and mint to my water. I feel like they have a deeper cooling effect than just plain water.

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  6. I am not allergic to sun, and tolerate it quite well. However due to the probability of skin cancer I do cover up. Light cotton and linen are the best bets in my part of the humid south. Avoiding the hottest part of the day works well for me too. I have yet to find any sunscreen that I am happy with. I use some of the lower numbered ones, when I remember to.

    They also make SPF rated clothing, some rated as high as 50 SPF. Most of my cotton shirts are from the Columbia PFG (Pro Fishing Gear) group and claim an SPF of around 30? Most of the higher SPF shirts are man made fibers and not as comfortable to me. To me the major selling point of my Columbia shirts are the cotton fabric, roll up sleeves with tabs to fasten them up and the vented backs.

    Another option? Learn to ride with an umbrella in hand might work, shades of Mary Poppins. :-D

    Aaron

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  7. Ooops...forgot. The "buzz" word to use when searching Columbia's website is "Omni-shade"

    Aaron

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  8. Try a straw fedora. I get sun stroke often too and I find a straw fedora in a light colour really does help keep me cooler when the sun is at its hottest.

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  9. A week of snow and rain predicted here in MT. Had to pull out my sweaters again, so it's almost painful to read the words "Summer Sun." Enjoy!

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  10. Actually, especially if you get a coaster-brake added, it might be pretty easy to cycle with an umbrella, at least on the Raleigh.

    I also tend to wear hats with brims in the summer, to shield my face (and prevent sunburns on top of my head), though I'm more just highly heat adverse, and not really allergic to sun or anything. I try to make sure and stop periodically if I'm going more than a mile or two at a time to get a drink and get out of the sun.

    I hope you find a good solution for you! It's bad enough for me being out in the summer, I can't imagine if I reacted that strongly to the sun. Sincerest best wishes!

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  11. Mmm, I love cycling with an umbrella! Highly encouraged. Important note though, you need an aerodynamically stable umbrella. If it has the right shape, it doesn't require any effort to keep balanced.

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  12. Velouria...Did you ever see this old post I did on Sun Protection?

    See this site as well - Lisa Archer, my cousin is the national coordinator of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics :)

    In a previous life I worked on behalf of La Roche Posay to introduce Mexoryl suncsreen into the USA. ... Mexoryl is not for the chemically sensitive, that is why I like physical blockers better for myself than the chemical blockers (like Mexoryl).

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  13. RidingPretty - Thanks, I'd missed that one. May I ask, how much time do you spend riding your bike in the sun during the hotter season? The BurnOut sunblock sounds really good as far as ingredients go, but when I used 35 SFP last summer it failed me - even with regular application. The Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunblock Stick SPF 60+ has titanium in addition to zinc, which is not ideal (I've gotten too much exposure to it already through oil paints). Still it's rated well by the Environmental Working Group, so for those not concerned with small amounts of titanium it's a good option.

    Bliss Chic - It's so difficult for the environment to accommodate everyone's preferences : ) My ideal temperature happens in September-November in New England. March-May can be good too, but are usually less consistent. Snow in May in Montana is impressive. When we lived in Northern NH it snowed in April a couple of times, but you win!

    Re the wide brim straw hats suggestions - Yup, I have those!

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  14. I have this issue as well. I have the opposite skin however- brown and tanable. However it tans with just the slightest exposure to the sun that by sept my arms look as thought they don't belong to my body. so I wear a lot of sunblocking things when I can. However I too don't do well with heat and humidity. I keep wanting to make a lightweight shrug to wear over my arms as my arms get so much sun when I bike, swim and run in the summer. It's a love hate b/c I love doing all three ( well maybe not the running but I like walking outdoors). I wear those rash guards for swimming. I am def in search of something for biking. I almost cut up my solarveil shirt. I might still do it.

    I find that for my issue- sunblock doesn't do much as I tan through it. so I need clothing. although I am being better with making sure there is a table spoon per limb. will review the less harmful lotions and am also in search of something that I can wear everyday for just walking about.

    I also think for walking I am going to push my weirdo freak factor by walking around with a parasol. people think I'm nuts anyway why not.

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  15. Velouria...I go to the beach! - I spend a LOT of time outdoors during the summer!

    I take extreme care of my skin at this point. I've just seemed to work it out for myself - My helmets with wide brims keep the sun off my face when I bicycle. Otherwise I wear big straw hats - I have quite a collection of them.

    While I'm not crazy about The Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunblock Stick SPF that I use, I've yet to find anything to replace it. I find that the stick works for me because of ease of use. I can reapply it often and it's easy. Important thing about sunblocks is to to reapply it every 2 hours when out in constant sun. I wish the company that makes my 1st choice in sun blocks (the Burnout Sunblock) would make it in a stick ..alas it only comes in a creamy lotion formula that is messier to reapply.

    Perhaps you're better off staying with long sleeves and leggings hmmmh...clothing options are a whole other topic and post :)

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  16. Velouria...p.s. I forget to also mention using a mineral powder as another way to apply/reapply sunblock. If you go back and reread my post about sunscreens scroll towards the bottom and read/find the link for the Peter Thomas Roth brush on mineral sunblock. For some men I know this is the only sunblock they would use- go figure. Or try the Organic mineral powders. None have the super high SPFs - but high SPFs is partially bunk anyway. Just reapply your sunblock religiously beats out the higher SPFs every time.

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  17. RidingPretty - I am still mystified by the world of mineral skin products, but would love to give this a try. The "lower SPF + frequent application = better than higher SPF" school of thought is pretty where I was coming from - until last summer. I applied 35 SPF sunblock every hour and still got burned. Not only that, but after our 2-week stay on Cape Cod with daily cycling along oceanside roads, my skin looked visibly damaged (less "plump" and with some permanent discolouration). Not sure how else to prevent this from happening this year, other than higher SPF. Of course it's possible that some organic SPF 35 blocks are more effective than others, so perhaps I will try the one you mentioned.

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  18. Rupert-the-also-fair-skinned!May 4, 2010 at 4:55 PM

    I'm a big proponent of the straw hat in the summer; nice and breathable ... if you're on a weekend long/faster ride, I bet a hat pin could keep even a wide brimmed hat in place (memories of my mother in gale force winds!).

    As for arms (knowing full well that this is not a site for the lycra-clad) you can get some quite nice sun sleeves/arm warmers; they're breathable and shouldn't get sweaty. There's a nice pair at http://www.amazon.com/Pearl-Izumi-Cycling-Running-Warmers/dp/B0033C4ES6/ which they say are SPF 50+... just pull them off when you get to your destination ...

    Which just leaves hands, and I imagine that you could find a nice pair of bike gloves (something that looks like a vintage pair of driving gloves for a touch of style to go with the vintage bikes). If they're made for biking, they'll be comfortable and should breath.

    I commute mostly by Vespa, so the arm/hands thing is definately an issue for me in the summer ... I'm going to check out those arm warmers. However, I'll be stuck with my large full face helmet which gets really hot even with the visor up; another reason to switch to pedal power :)

    Happy sunburn-free rides, y'all

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  19. I have red hair and the ultra sensitive skin that goes with it. Years ago I started using sunscreen for after shave year 'round. The best I've found yet is Nutregena Ultimate Sport SPF 70. I don't think the higher SPF is a gimmick I have much better luck with it.

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  20. I just found your site (beautiful antique bicycles!)
    The most comfortable summerweight fabric is silk. Have a wide silk scarf with a pin or clip to wrap around your neck & shoulders (poncho-style) while you ride. This way you get the breezes. (Clip/pin is also useful for skirts!)
    For hands, wear the most classic pair of ladies tailored pale cotton gloves that you can find (summery garden gloves used to be good, "sleep" gloves for handcream may also work). You can cut off the tips if you want.

    Banana Boat for KIDS is a good cheap sunscreen, no tears, also no parabens. But all sunscreens are debatable. When I was a kid we thought the Coppertone 8 SPF would keep us white as a ghost... !

    Look to India. They are wise. Saris - and Brits should stay out of the noonday sun also. (Saw a photo of 40-yr-old Indian woman w/ NO sun damage - she never used sunscreen, just stayed under the porch when it was hot, like a sane person.)

    -Izzy

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  21. I live in South Texas, yesterday, on the way back from work the temperature was 103F, I wear SPF 50 and I'm very tan. It also helps that I am hispanic and therefore I just get tanned, but I'm sure it's not good for me. I'm also sure someone not from South Texas would probably die from heat stroke.

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  22. The picture of the bridge-- a long stretch of asphalt on a hot day-- shudder. I think I much prefer cycling with frozen legs as per February; but what can you do?

    I love the idea of a silk scarf as sun protection. Dreamy!

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  23. Here in Arizona night cycling is a big thing. And those that brave the sun do so before 9:00 a.m. and after 4:00 p.m. Jim

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  24. Hi Velouria, I hate summer. I live in a hot, humid climate and summer is the pits. The long days are a blessing as we cycle in the mornings or evenings (if it's cooled down by then).

    I wear fine cotton kaftans in summer - not the long things a la Demis Roussos, but those that just skim your hips. They have long sleeves and you can still get the coolness of the breeze on your skin without burning. I also wear 3/4 length linen blend trousers/cargos.

    I hate sunscreens as they make my skin feel vile and sticky, chemical issues aside, so wear crocheted cotton gloves to protect my hands - these are old horse riding gloves and quite breathable.

    I protect my face with a helmet that has a peak at the front. I hate helmets too as they make me too hot in summer but it's law where I live.

    In all seriousness the best thing is to schedule your day as you've been doing, avoiding riding in the hottest part of the day. Sadly our western way of life seems to ignore the siesta idea that sensible people adhere to in hot climates. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, as they say!

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  25. Carinthia - Your comment compelled me to listen to the Noel Coward song again; hilarious : ) I have worn out all my caftans and linen capris from years past (not being sarcastic), so may have to reinvest.

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  26. LOL, Flowers in the Attic. I love that line. I'm quite pale myself. I use SPF 15 on my face year round and throw some 30 on my arms and shoulders during the summer. This seems to work for relatively short commuting trips. Last summer my body did get a little darker than usual, and if I'm out for a long ride, I either have to wear a shirt that covers my shoulders or stop to reapply. I don't really have any good advice, though - eager to learn from all the other comments.

    Beautiful pictures.

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  27. While RidingPretty mentions that sunscreens containing Mexoryl are not the for chemically sensitive, if you can tolerate it, they are in the best sunscreens on earth. I am a pale blond who lives at high latitude, and I was able to be on the beach in Mexico a few winters ago after liberally applying loads of the stuff. I get my favorite all purpose Mexoryl containing sunscreens in Canada, as they have a much better selection than the US. I like the Ombrelle ones-- face specific for the the face, and the SPF 30 Extreme (also contains titanium dioxide) for everywhere else. You may already be aware that a lot of sun damage is caused by UVA rays, which most sunscreens do a very poor job at blocking. Mexoryl is one of those that is more stable and able to block those.

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  28. To Amanda regarding Mexoryl...Yes I agree Mexoryl is incredible and the best one out there for wide spectrum/UVA/UVB protection and it protects better than anything out there. If anyone has ever been diagnosed with skin cancer, or is at hereditary risk for developing skin cancer - Mexoryl is Doctor recommended - interestingly it use to only be available by prescription. It took a long time to get USA FDA approval.
    Otherwise I personally prefer a physical sunblock (zinc, mineral, and titanium with titanium being my least favorite of the physical blockers). Even with these you need to be aware of micronized/nano formulations which I would avoid.
    I hope this isn't too boring for all of LB's readers, but skin cancer is on the rise - so making good decisions! :)

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  29. Speaking of specific products, has anybody tried the Heiko Kids 40 SPF recommended by the Environmental Working Group? That's the only product I can find that's over SPF 30 and has a rating of "0" on the harmful scale.

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  30. I remember reading of a study the British did during a war in the desert, comparing the dark heavy wool robes the natives wore, to the light cotton khaki of the Brits, seems the skin temp of the Africans was lower, due to wicking and sun exclusion.
    I'm not super sensitive, but I don't like sun blocks, I try to cover my skin with thick enough cloth to exclude the sun.

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  31. Hi, how,s things. A friend of mine had sun and heat problems for years, pale complexion and burnt easily in summer. Who ever would have thought it as we live in England. However, the person in question was advised, by whom i do not know, to eat one table spoon of tomato puree every day. This she did by spreading the concentrate on cheese biscuits. Sun protection was still used, but after three months she noticed a big improvement. Her complexion had changed and sun damage had reduced. This is by no means a cure, but the advice that was given worked for her. It may be worth looking into, different things work for different people, you wont know if you dont give it a go. good luck, keep smiling.

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  32. The first photo looks like it could be a painting: a color study, perhaps.

    I am fair-skinned and freckled. The SPF 30 sunscreens seem to work fine for me--when I remember to use them!

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  33. Anon @ 5pm: Can the tomato puree come on dough and have toppings, say, cheese, mushrooms and onions? :)

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  34. I thought the tomato paste comment was a joke, until I found things like this. Pizza for all!

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  35. MDI @ 11.27pm Id take it easy on the pizza, it might all end up on your hips. Having said that, what ever floats your boat sweetie! Enjoy.

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  36. Hi there. i bike to work and to school too. I am pale yet from years of not sun protection i have developed freckles and bumps. For sun protection, I would use California baby sunscreen which ia a physical sunscreen and known to be effective.I would also wear those bike helmets with the shade. To reinforce my sunprotection i would wear those big sunglasses. Like alot said, i try to stay away from the sun at its in the evening. Sometimes when i am to lazy i would just take the bus and put my bike on the bus.

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  37. I really like this new sunscreen from Neutrogena http://neutrogena.ca/en/getProduct.asp?cat=7&sub=61&id=156&display=0
    It comes in SPF 45 and 60, isn't greasy at all, and the texture is water light just like it says. It almost goes on matte and hasn't caused any breakouts. I am curious about the new Kiehls sunscreen too.
    http://www.kiehls.com/_us/_en/face/whatsnew/super-fluid-uv-defense-spf-50.htm

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  38. Your first problem is that you are wearing what appears to be flannel or some other thicker material and a skirt that hits your knees. In Texas, you would literally be dead. Although longer sleeves may prevent sunburn, you are going to get heat stroke.

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  39. Anon - It is cotton gauze, not flannel.

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