By Coach Rick Schultz
Now that spring is here and the sun it starting to shine again, it’s time to think about sun protection. When in the sun, you want to protect yourself against the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that can cause skin and related damage across a range up to and including cancer. Cyclists need to cover and protect:
- Your eyes with a good pair of quality sunglasses that block out 99-100% of both UVA and UVB rays
- The top of your head, face, ears, neck, lips, arms and legs (your skin, in other words, all over your body) with a good quality sunscreen (See Sunscreen Info and Tips for Summer Riding for a primer on sunscreen and its use, and Dr. Mirkin’s more recent article on the safest types of sunscreen and types to avoid.)
But what about the parts of your body covered by your jersey, shorts, etc? A few years ago in one of our Health Matters columns titled Wearing Sunscreen Under a Jersey, the author cited a board-certified dermatologist colleague who estimated that the sun protection factor (SPF) of a regular jersey (one with no added sun protection) is about 8. “This is a very low level of protection – especially for a long day in the sun,” he said.
More Sun-Protection Cycling Apparel Now Available
It seems that cycling apparel in the past few years is increasingly featuring sun protection as a standard feature, especially in “warm weather” gear. Ultraviolet Protection Factor, or UPF, indicates what percentage or fraction of UV rays can penetrate the fabric. UPF boils down to several things:
- How tight the weave is of your clothing. The tighter the weave of the fabric, the smaller the holes between the threads and the more UV radiation the fabric blocks. For example, a pair of denim jeans has a UPF of 1,700, meaning only 1/1,700 of the sun’s UV rays reaches the skin.
- The type of fiber your clothing is made out of.
- How thick/heavy/dense the fabric is. Usually the thicker the material, the less UV is transmitted.
- What color is the fabric? Darker or brighter colors (red, black) absorb more UV than lighter or white materials.
- Whether you have increased your clothes’ UPF rating with laundry additives such as Sun Guard or Tinosorb.
What’s The Difference Between UPF and SPF?
UPF is a rating used for fabric that measures both UVA and UVB radiation blocked. SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a rating for sunscreens and their ability to protect you against UVB rays, which are the ones that can burn your skin and cause skin cancer. (UVA rays are the ones responsible for prematurely aging the skin; they can also cause cancer.) Water and sweat will cause the sunscreen to dilute and/or completely run off, so that is why the sunscreen manufacturers and dermatologists say to apply liberally and apply often.
How Sun-Protective Clothing is Tested
From melanomafoundation.org: New standards for sun protective fabrics in the United States were unveiled in January 2001. The United States now has the most stringent UV-protective clothing standards in the world! The new UPF fabric rating also requires that fabrics claiming to be sun protective must be prepared in the following ways before testing:
- Undergo 40 simulated launderings.
- Be exposed to 100 fading units of simulated sunlight (equivalent to 2 years’ light exposure).
- And, if intended for swim wear, exposure to chlorinated water.
The following chart provides a quick glimpse at the relative effectiveness of various UPF and SPF ratings:
What Sun-Protected Cycling Apparel is Available?
We’ve pulled together a partial list of manufacturers that have UPF 28 to 50+ rated cycling and triathlon clothing.
Note: Not every line – or every product within a line – from all of these manufacturers is UPF-rated. You will need to look carefully at individual lines of clothing (and specific items within each line), since some manufacturers have extensive product lines that are all UPF-rated, while others have only one line, and still others only one product. Also, some products are listed as ‘UPF’, others listed as ‘SPF’ and others as ‘UV rated’.
Since product lines change all of the time, it is recommended that you look at each product that you are interested in to see the UPF rating – if any.
Finally, after quite a bit of searching the Internet, it became clear that many cycling clothing manufacturers have zero options for UPF-rated apparel.
Again, the following is a partial list of some of those companies that do feature UPF-rated apparel:
Did we miss any of your favorites?
Read more: Cycling Apparel for UV protection.
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Coach Rick Schultz is an avid cyclist who trains, races and coaches in Southern California. Rick is an engineer by trade, and in addition to being a coach, he's a bike fitter and prolific product reviewer. He's the author of Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist and Bike Fit 101: Your Toolset for a Great Bike Fit in the RBR eBookstore. Check his product reviews website, www.biketestreviews.com, and his coaching site, www.bikefitnesscoaching.com. Click to read Rick's full bio.