I know, it’s a bad pun or whatever. This post is really about skincare.
Skincare is something that we cyclists tend to forget about. We usually focus on making sure our bike fits us and eating/drinking enough on the road.
But what about the biggest organ in our bodies?
That’s the skin, if you weren’t sure.
We don’t really think about taking care of our skin, so here are a few problem areas and how to avoid them.
Lots of things can affect our skin when we are on the bike. Sweat, sun, tears, dirt, germs, bugs, wayward birds… you get the idea.
We all know we should shower after a ride because we don’t want to be stinky. But that stink that manages to keep people outside a 5-foot radius around you isn’t just sweat – it’s a combination of sweat and bacteria, and whatever else you picked up on the road.
The bacteria part is what can get nasty. If left alone, the bacteria will fester and colonize wherever it wants to – in your pants, in your helmet, in your gloves, in your socks.
That’s fine… if you plan on never wearing any of that again. Otherwise, make sure you wash your gear.
Clothing like jerseys, shorts, socks, sports bras, etc. should be washed after every use, even if you just rode a quick 10 miles.
Helmets and gloves can go a little longer than that, but I wouldn’t wait longer than a week between washes, especially if you’re an avid rider.
I have started washing my helmet after every long ride because the sweat and grit and germs make for a nasty cocktail of facial rash called acne mechanica.
Acne mechanica, from Types of Acne.com
This is a bacterial skin infection that looks like bad acne, but it’s sore and itchy, and doesn’t go away with just topical antibiotics. Plus, it spreads if you don’t get it taken care of pretty quickly. I got it last summer and I ended up needing a serious antibiotic from the campus clinic.
The most common culprit of acne mechanica? A dirty helmet, but it can be pretty much any article of clothing or gear that is constantly against your skin. When you sweat, your pores open up and are more susceptible to getting filled up with nasties.
The doctor I saw for it said it’s a common athlete rash, and he sees it a lot in wrestlers when they get their faces or backs/shoulders ground into the wrestling mat.
The best way to avoid acne mechanica? Wash your helmet after long sweaty rides, or at least once a week. Routinely wash gloves and hats, and wash clothing like jerseys, shorts and sports bras after every use. Shower with antibacterial soap after every ride.
Here’s more information about acne mechanica.
Another skin rash that plagues cyclists is the dreaded saddle sore.
Saddle sores come from the same basis as acne mechanica – dirty clothing. Saddle sores take it a step further, though, by turning into nasty boils on your rear and crotch. Experts strongly advise against popping saddle sores, as it leads to a greater risk of infection – think saddle sores on crack. Instead, apply a wet warm cloth or soak in a hot bath for a while and apply antibiotic ointment until the sore goes away.
How do you prevent saddle sores? Stay clean. Just like its acne cousin, thoroughly wash your jersey and shorts after every ride, and clean yourself as well with a good antibacterial soap.
Note: Do not Google image search “saddle sore.” Unless you’re into that kind of thing.
I know I’ve forgotten sunscreen more often than I care to admit, and I’ve had the sunburns to pay for it. Special thanks to all the cyclists who shared photos of their burns and tans!
Sunscreen is important, guys.
This is what happens when you wear a racerback jersey and try to dress fancy.
Bobby Wintle’s epic tan.
Erica Kiesel’s first burn of the racing season.
Keith Reed after 60 straight days on the bike. Like that Keen tan on his feet?
Robert Elliott and Bobby Wintle after finishing 200 miles in the Dirty Kanza 200 2014.
My first burn of the season. I swore I wasn’t going to burn at all, but it showed up later. The peeling was incredible.
Tulsa cyclist Sean Morris
Travis Dunn. Cyclist and meme generator.
I’m so glad that we as a society are starting to move past the golden god/goddess phase and into “let’s actually take care of our skin.”
As a little white girl, I tried just about everything – laying out after soaking in lotion, self-tanning lotion (streaky legs, anyone?), and I would have probably gone to a tanning salon if my mother had let me.
After stumbling upon an article about a woman who died from skin cancer complications, 17-year-old me decided it wasn’t worth it, which solved the problem of actively trying to get several shades darker than I was. I didn’t start wearing sunscreen on a regular basis until recently, after my first serious burn of the cycling season earlier this year. I couldn’t sleep on my back and wearing anything on my shoulders hurt. I invested in some SPF 30 sunscreen and life has gotten better.
Skin cancer is on the rise.
Annually, 3.5 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the U.S. alone, and in the past 30 years, more people have gotten skin cancer than all other cancers combined, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
If that didn’t get your attention, try this: It is estimated that 9,710 people will die of melanoma this year, and the majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white males over the age of 55.
Moral of the story: wear sunscreen and protective clothing when you ride – invest in a cycling cap to wear under your helmet, some sunglasses to protect your eyes and some sunscreen, at least SPF 30. There has been debate on whether anything stronger than SPF 30 is better, but I think 30 is probably a good medium.
Skin cancer isn’t pretty (don’t Google image search that, either).
Heat rash usually only affects children, but adults doing lots of physical activity in hot muggy situations can contract it too.
Austin Turner got heat rash during his 200 miles on the Dirty Kanza 200 2014.
Heat rash presents as raised red bumps, and occurs when you sweat so much your sweat ducts get blocked and the sweat builds up under the skin, causing the rash.
It will usually go away on its own, but if it sticks around and gets painful and hot, starts oozing puss and you get a fever, you should probably go see a doctor.
I feel like this post has been pretty serious so… Here’s some animals on bicycles!
Do you have any bicycling-skin-related stories? Share them in the comments!