Why motorcycle riders suffer from sunburn

Why riders suffer from sunburn

Riders can suffer from dangerous sunburn on their faces – even in winter and even in full-face helmets – unless they take precautions.

It seems ridiculous to think about sunburn and skin cancer when your whole body is covered with protective riding gear.

However, the face is often overlooked.

Open-face helmets and even some of the modern retro full-face helmets with narrow chin bars, such as the Bell Bullitt and Veldt, expose much of your face.

That’s why many open-face users have beards and/or wear face masks.

I use a neck sock with claimed UV protection to cover most of my face.

Why riders suffer from sunburn
A UV-rated neck sock or face mask can protect you from the sun

Even with a full-face helmet, the nose, cheeks and lips are often exposed for long times to the sun.

Most visors, even tinted visors, don’t have a very high UV protection factor or Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating.

If your helmet makes a vague claim about UV protection, but doesn’t mention an SPF rating figure, you should be skeptical.

Riders on long trips can spend eight to 10 hours a day in the sun, yet a melanoma can begin to form in minutes – even before your skin starts to burn!

What is the SPF rating?

The Cancer Council points out that the SPF rating figure is the number of times the protection of having no sunscreen. Since your skin starts to burn in 10 minutes, an SPF15 visor will only protect you for 150 minutes or 2.5 hours.

Do the math on how long you will be riding and work out how much skin protection you really need. There are now SPF creams with SPF50+ ratings.

This is a serious subject and one close to our heart as a good friend, Emma Betts, recently passed away at the age of 25 from melanoma. She was a brave and devoted campaigner for melanoma awareness. You can read her Dear Melanoma blog here and you can donate to the Melanoma Institute Australia here.

Sunburn is also a winter problem

One of the problems with our awareness of skin cancer is that we tend to think of it only occurring in summer when it’s hot.

However the winter sun has just as many harmful UVA rays as in summer.

Riders should always carry a small tube of high SPF sunscreen in their jacket pocket, tank bag or panniers and ensure they re-apply during the day, even if using high SPF lotions.

Many lip balms not only shield you from UV rays, but also protect against painful wind burn.

Your sunglasses should also have a UV protection rating.

Other sunburn risks

Other areas of your body can also be exposed to the sun, apart from your face.

Do your sleeves meet your gloves when your arms are extended to the handlebars? Or is there a small gap at the wrist?

If so, slap some sunscreen on, or you could try this “hack” we quickly adapted on a long ride by using a Maccas chip bag to cover the gap.

Maccas gauntlets hacks to prevent sunburn
Maccas gauntlets hack prevent sunburnt wrists

Another place where the UV rays can get to your skin is the back of the neck, especially on sports bike riders who bend over.

Try a light neck sock to protect the skin. Even some of these have an SPF rating. As mentioned above, they are also good for covering much of your face. You can get them in thin and thick varieties for all seasons.

Riders also tend to stop along the way at lookouts, cafes, etc, where they expose more of their skin to the sun.

Remember when you stop to apply some sunscreen to the rest of your face, ears, hands and, if you’re like me, the top of your head!

However, on a hot day, be aware the sunscreen can dribble down into your eyes when you sweat.

In which case, pack a cap or foldable hat like Queenslander Chris Vermeulen’s famous towelling hat.

Chris Vermeulen sunburn
Chris Vermeulen

7 Comments

  1. Yep especially in Qld long days can not only leave you burnt , but that in itself worsens dehydration and discomfort in hot weather . I now wear a thin buff under my full face and a light long sleeve top and cap for stops . I also try to stop in the shade whenever possible when leading rides and waiting for others to catch up etc.

  2. I’ve never ever had a sunburn face in 35 years riding, I’ve always had a full face and tinted visor.
    The only trouble I’ve ever had is just below the base of the helmet on the neck but a small bottle of sunscreen always in the tank bag is a no brainer.

  3. G’day Mark,
    I spend a lot of time in the saddle, alway’s wearing a full face. I find i get severe sunburn on my nose, regardless of the seasons.
    Sunscreen helps but is not the end all and to be quite honest, i’m not sure what is!

    1. Hi Tex , I find a Buff or similar will cover my nose lips and chin , pull it up over your ears at the back and just under eye level in the front . in a pinch you can fashion a shield from thin cardboard and wedge it into the buff when riding West or on particularly hot dry days . a bandana works to and you can splash water on it periodically .

  4. The back of the neck is what I find the most vulnerable spot while riding and the face when stopped, as it only take 15 minutes or so for sun damage, and if you stop half a dozen time in full sunlight it all adds up.

  5. Industrial safety glasses are good sunglasses to wear on a bike and are cheap and readily available at the big hardware stores. The safety glasses have good UV ratings and have useful tested impact resistance, something that regular sunglasses are unlikely to match.
    These safety glasses can also come in clear and light yellow tint. The light yellow works surprisingly well to brighten up dull overcast days and still works ok at night.

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