Yes, it’s summer and predictably, we’ve got an article advising you on how to protect against sun damage. But it really is important if you want to prevent horrible things like cancer, a leathery neck, sun spots, cracked lips, strained eyes, premature onset of wrinkles and of course funny tan lines… By Dr Merchen Naude

For obvious reasons, summer is the best time of the year to get reacquainted with your mountain bike. However good the hours on your bike may be for your well-being and post-winter waistline, it is definitely not good for your skin. South Africa has one if the highest incidences of malignant melanoma in the world. Melanoma is a type of skin cancer which is derived from the pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) in the skin. It can spread rapidly to major organs if not diagnosed and treated early. According to CANSA’s 2009 statistics, one in 1429 people may develop a malignant melanoma, and it is on the increase. Apart from melanoma, excessive sun exposure can cause a whole range of other skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma; squamous cell carcinoma) and skin disorders, as well as lead to premature aging of the skin. Spending hours in the sun on your bike is not helping!

Photo: Zoon Cronje/Nikon
Photo: Zoon Cronje/Nikon


So how can you protect yourself against the sun? Plan ahead by taking note of the following:


The new loose-weave and lightweight fabrics cycling shirts are made to let heat and moisture escape, but may not give good enough protection against the harmful rays of the sun. However, some higher-end brands do make apparel with UPF and SPF ratings. If you have particularly sensitive skin, it may be wise to invest in these for those long rides or your next stage race. Using sunscreen on your whole body, and not only the exposed skin, may be a more cost effective option.

Remember that helmets have vents… If you do not have the “luxury” of a thick head of hair, slap on a nonoily sunscreen under your helmet to protect those bald patches, or wear an appropriate bandana/skull cap. The visor of your helmet also helps to block the sun to an extent, but mainly from shining directly in your eyes in the early morning/late afternoon.

Cycling gloves not only protect your hands during a fall, they also protect the top of your hands against sunburn. Remember that your hands give away your age…Firm-fitting cycling-specific protective eyewear from a reputable eyewear brand, is an essential part of a rider’s gear. Protecting your eyes from the glare of the sun is vital. Most reputable brands have lenses that filter out all the harmful rays.


According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the average person applies less than half the recommended amount of sunscreen. The average body needs about an ounce (30 ml). Apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to sun exposure to give it time to react to your skin. Don’t forget the hidden spots: your ears, back of your neck below your helmet and the back of your arms and legs. Then re-apply every 2 hours.


A good sunscreen should:

> have UVA and UVB protection

> be tested/approved by an accredited organisation like CANSA or meet EU standards (COLIPA) for safety and efficacy

> contain either Titanium dioxide or Zinc oxide (5%)

> be water-resistant to be effective when you sweat

CANSA recommends a sunscreen with a UVA and UVB protection, preferably 20 to 50 SPF. From April 2013, all of CANSA’s seal-bearing sunscreens adhere to the new Colipa standard – currently the most stringent standard for sunscreen protection internationally. Recent skin cancer research has highlighted the need for more effective UVA protection in terms of the mean critical UVA wavelength; UVA protection factor and photo stability of sunscreen chemicals – as determined by the new Harmonized Colipa (EU) Protection Claim. These sunscreens will carry the new SunSmart Seal of Approval (see list on CANSA website).

The current SPF (Sun Protective Factor) system only addresses UVB protection. SPF blocks the UVB rays which cause sunburn. (UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the dermis and are thought to cause cancer). The SPF number refers to the product’s ability to block the sun’s harmful rays, and refers actually to a time factor. For example, SPF 15 sunscreen allows a user to stay in the sun 15 times longer before burning. According to, the average time it takes a person to burn without sunscreen is 15 to 20 minutes. If you wear SPF15, you’ll be protected for about 300 minutes (20 minutes x SPF15=300 minutes). New guidelines cap a sunscreen’s SPF at 50. SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% and SPF 50 blocks 98%, according to Thus a product with an even higher SPF doesn’t offer much more protection.

A waterproof sunscreen maintains its sun protection factor (SPF) level up to 80 minutes of exposure to water, and a water resistant sunscreen maintains its SPF level up to 40 minutes (Melanoma Foundation and Skin Cancer Foundation data).

Remember, no matter what SPF you use, you need to re-apply every 2 hours. Remember to use sunscreen on your lips, and re-apply often.


There are brands (Heliocare) that offer sun protective capsules. These capsules will not prevent sunburn, but they contain high dosages of anti-oxidants and sun protective technology that decrease the damage caused by regular sun exposure. They may prevent the ageing effect of prolonged sun exposure, and are best used in conjunction with a good sunscreen.


There has been considerate publicity around the fact that people think they produce insufficient amounts of Vitamin D if they are using sunscreen on a regular basis. This has been disproven, especially in a sunny country like South Africa. It is unlikely that our environment is going to change and produce less harmful UV radiation. Spending hours in the saddle without sunscreen carries a serious health risk. You can either see this as another summertime magazine article advising on sensible sun protection and take heed; or you can ignore it, but don’t say you never knew…

Dr Mérchen Naudé is a Sports Physician practising in Pretoria, and is an avid triathlete and mountain biker. She applies and re-applies sunblock… She can be reached on 012 753 1257 or


TREAD Magazine is sold throughout South Africa and can be found in: Spar, CNA, Exclusive Books, Discerning bike shops and on Zinio

*Originally published in TREAD Issue 26, 2013 – All rights reserved



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