Question: My wife thinks that with the time we spend on our long rides (6-8 hours), always including the strongest sun of the day, we should be putting sunscreen on underneath our jerseys. There are very few cycling jerseys that explicitly list the ability to filter UVA/B rays. Should we be coating our upper backs before we do our next century and reduce our melanoma risk? Or are the artificial fibers used in our jerseys opaque enough to keep us safe? — Peter B.
Dr. Richard Ellin Responds: This is a great question, Peter. As always, you should listen to your wife!
Most cyclists are well aware of the dangers of riding unprotected in the sun. Generally, we do a pretty good job of applying sunscreen to our exposed skin before a ride. But many of us likely don’t even think about the protection — or lack of protection — offered by our jerseys.
I’ve consulted with a board-certified dermatologist who says that if jerseys are not treated with a sun-protective agent (some jerseys will claim they are SPF-treated) then they have an SPF of approximately 8. This is a very low level of protection — especially for a long day in the sun.
Unless you know for certain your jerseys have an SPF rating of 15 or higher, I would definitely recommend applying sunscreen under the jersey.
I recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of 45 or higher and water-resistant. It should also be reapplied every 2 hours if perspiring.
Not only does this help to prevent sunburn, but more importantly it has been shown to help reduce the likelihood of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. The most common site for melanoma is on the back for males, and on the back of the legs for females.
So, in the long tradition of applying sunscreen, have someone help with the spots you can’t reach yourself. And don’t overlook the areas under your jersey.
Richard Ellin, MD, FACP, is a board-certified specialist in Internal Medicine who practices in Alpharetta, Georgia. He received his medical degree and completed residency at Emory University, and has been in practice with Kaiser Permanente for 26 years. He is also an avid cyclist.