Sunscreen and cycling (part 01): Gracie Elvin
The days are longer, weather is warmer, the sun is stronger, and our skin is vulnerable. Long sleeve jerseys and leg warmers have been packed away in most Australian cupboards and, for many riders, tan lines are beginning to form.
As we approach summer, we are asking for advice about protection from the sun.
Several professional cyclists from the past and present have already sent in some tips on how to best manage long, hot days in the saddle and there’ll be an overview in the upcoming issue of RIDE (due out mid-December).
To encourage commentary, we sent a series of 10 questions to riders and asked for their feedback about the use of sunscreen.
(If you have some pointers you’d like to include, please send via email.)
The two-time Australian road race champion, Gracie Elvin, was quick to respond to our questions, stating: “I’m glad you asked me about this because I’m a big sun safety advocate!”
Gracie Elvin on sun safety
1. Do you have one brand of sunscreen you prefer over all others? If so, what?
“I usually buy the Cancer Council branded sunscreen as I find it’s good quality and it’s an important Australian organisation to support. I prefer the clear sprays but am not fussy if the thick white stuff is all I have! I won’t buy anything less than SPF 30+ either.”
2. How has your cycling sunscreen application changed during the time that you’ve been riding?
“Ever since I can remember my parents have covered me up with sunscreen, clothes and hats to protect my fair skin, so I am used to making sure I am sun smart every day.
“The only thing that has changed over time is how I protect my face as it sees the most sun.
“I use a skin coloured zinc for extra protection both on and off the bike. I find it stays on better during intense training and racing, and is almost like wearing makeup! It suits the girly side of me.”
3. What do you do about the sunscreen-induced sting in the eyes?
“This one is hard to get around! It’s impossible to avoid sweating while riding so just being careful to not rub your eyes too much is a good start.
“I also wear a wide head band that covers part of my forehead as I get sun burnt through my helmet and get ugly tiger stripes on my face, and this also acts as a sweat band.”
4. When racing, what do you do if you are in the sun for extended periods?
“Unlike training, it is hard to reapply sunscreen during the race. I often do two layers of sunscreen before a race, the last application after I’ve gone to the bathroom for the last time when removing my clothes might have rubbed some off.”
5. When training, how often did you reapply sunscreen? (Do you carry some with you on rides?)
“I find that on rides up to three hours I won’t need to reapply, but much more than that I will bring a mini travel tube in my back pocket and often an SPF lip protectant too.”
6. Do you use a different sunscreen for face to arms and legs?
“I use SPF30-50+ on my arms and legs, and use a tinted zinc cream on my face for extra protection.”
7. Does the application of sunscreen vary between Australia and Europe?
“It definitely does! It is not as common in Europe to buy or use sunscreen, and the SPF factors are much lower, mostly around 10-15+. Most people don’t seem to use it at all in Europe, even at races.”
8. Does your team/doctor/soigneur encourage sunscreen application?
“Luckily for me I am in an Aussie team that is used to sunscreen use and there is always a few tubes in the camper. We are encouraged to use it but the choice is ours.”
9. What advice would you have for riders who are planning on long days in the sun this summer?
“I am always nagging my friends and team-mates to use sunscreen! Especially in Australia where the sun is so strong, I would advise any riders to wear a minimum of SPF30+ every time they go out on their bike after mid-morning and reapply every 2-3 hours. If not for cancer protection then for the anti-aging effects!”
10. Any stories to tell about nasty sunburn from cycling?
“I’ve definitely been burnt plenty of times on my bike.
“I’m always trying to minimise my tan lines so I can wear nice clothes on and off the bike!
“The story that I remember most was trying not to get burnt at my first Giro Rosa, but I’d forgotten to pack sunscreen. I was riding with an Italian team and it seemed none of the other riders had even heard of it let alone brought some with them! They all were super tanned and looked at me like I was an alien with my skin staying the same pale colour after nine days of racing in the Italian summer. I had to beg the Aussie team everyday for some of theirs!”