Cycling is one of the most exhilarating outdoor activities that can expose you to the many benefits of the sun’s rays. We all need some sun exposure to produce vitamin D and keep our immune systems strong. Vitamin D from the sun also helps keep our bones healthy and strong. However, prolonged and unprotected exposure to the sun can be very harmful to our skin, eyes and immune system. Skin cancers can develop from frequent and cumulative sun exposure, leading to burns throughout your lifetime.
Sunburn: The Unwanted Cyclist’s Badge
One of the most immediate and visible consequences of prolonged sun exposure while cycling is sunburn. Sunburn occurs when the skin is damaged by the ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Even if you apply sunscreen before your ride, the combination of sweat and friction can cause it to wear off quickly, leaving your skin vulnerable to UV damage.
Sunburn not only hurts, but it can also lead to long-term skin damage, including premature aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. Cyclists who spend hours on the road without proper sun protection are at a higher risk of developing skin issues, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Dehydration and Heat Exhaustion
Cycling under the blazing sun can lead to rapid dehydration and heat exhaustion. Sweating is the body’s natural cooling mechanism, but when you’re exposed to intense heat, you can lose fluids and electrolytes at an alarming rate. Dehydration can result in dizziness, weakness, nausea, and a decreased ability to concentrate – all of which can be dangerous when you’re on the road.
Heat exhaustion is a more severe condition that can develop if dehydration is left untreated. Symptoms include profuse sweating, rapid heartbeat, confusion, and even fainting. To prevent these heat-related issues, it’s crucial to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your ride and wear lightweight, breathable clothing to help regulate your body temperature.
UV Radiation and Eye Damage
Cycling often involves long hours in the sun, and your eyes are constantly exposed to harmful UV radiation. Over time, this exposure can lead to eye damage, including cataracts and macular degeneration. To protect your eyes, always wear sunglasses with UV protection while cycling. Look for sunglasses that cover a wide area to shield your eyes from all angles.
Increased Risk of Skin Cancer
Prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV radiation can significantly increase your risk of developing skin cancer, and cyclists who spend countless hours on the road are particularly vulnerable. The most aggressive form of skin cancer, melanoma, has been linked to chronic sun exposure, making it a real concern for outdoor enthusiasts.
To reduce your risk of skin cancer, make sunscreen a part of your cycling routine. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all exposed skin, including your face, neck, arms, and legs. Reapply it every two hours, especially if you’re sweating profusely.
Protect Yourself While Cycling in the Sun
While cycling is an excellent way to stay fit, enjoy the outdoors, and explore new places, it’s essential to recognize the harmful effects of the sun during your rides. Sunburn, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and the risk of skin cancer are real dangers that every cyclist should be aware of. Protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays should be a non-negotiable part of your cycling routine. Remember to wear sunscreen, stay hydrated, don protective eyewear, and choose your riding times wisely to minimize sun-related risks and ensure that your cycling adventures are safe and enjoyable for years to come.
Dr. Nicole Kounalakis is a surgical oncologist who specializes in the treatment of melanoma and other aggressive skin cancers. In this video, she explains the harmful effects of excessive sun exposure.
Explained is a series of short videos where Northside experts explain common patient questions.