How does cycling affect your skin?
You’re probably familiar with the concept of “overuse” when it comes to the muscles you use for cycling. But have you ever thought about the toll cycling takes on your skin?

The effect of sun and wind on your skin

According to Valerie Geal, facialist and dermal therapist at her Girona-based skin clinic, Skin Lab, your skin is affected not just by sun exposure but the extent of the sun exposure that cyclists face. Hours and hours on a bike, with the odd stop for caffeine but not to reapply sunscreen, is just the tip of the iceberg.
The other problems are being in constant wind, the effect of different types of air, sweat, rubbing on the skin, the friction of the helmet straps on the skin and the helmet on the scalp.
“Being exposed to the sun accelerates the degradation of collagen and elastin,” says Valerie. “But the high wind contact to the skin increases what we call trans epidermal water loss – and that’s literally water being sucked out of the skin tissue.”
Hydrating by drinking water will keep your body’s water levels replenished, but that water goes to your organs. It won’t be enough to refuel the skin as well.
With so much affecting the surface of the skin, the skin’s natural barrier gets stressed, which changes the ratios of lipids, oils and free-fatty acids that are there to protect the skin. That’s where you see the signs of ageing, especially on the face and hands.

 

What’s happening under the skin 

Working backwards, if your skin is in crisis at the top layer, for example, dryness, brown patches (skin pigmentation) or irritation, it's the result of days and weeks of exposure to sun and wind. 
The solution is not so much repair, but prevention because new skin cells are formed below the surface of the skin and work their way up to the outermost layer of the epidermis. A good skincare routine will help grow the healthiest possible cells, full of lipids, oils, proteins and water so they continue to be healthy when they get to the top.
The ideal skincare routine will protect the skin during the day and help restore it at night and, for that, you need products with high levels of active ingredients.

 

How can a skincare expert help?

A consultation with an expert will help you find your skin’s unique pathway. 
“Skin is really simple but very complex at the same time,” says Valerie. “You and I have exactly the same material in our skin cells, but the differences lie in our environments, where you grew up, what you eat, what you think, everything.” 
A thorough consultation will involve conversation, observation and a hands-on approach to look at the skin’s texture, secretions and lesions that could, if left unchecked, lead to skin cancer. They’ll check inside your ears, scalp, neck and even the backs of your arms will give away secrets about your lifestyle and diet. 
From there, the therapist can recommend products to promote skin health for you as an individual, with your specific lifestyle as a cyclist and the context you’re riding in. Expert advice also helps navigate the masses of products on the market, some of which make “bold” claims as to their ingredients and effectiveness. 

 

How can you protect your skin?

When it comes to skincare for cyclists, it’s much more than just slapping on some sunscreen and remembering to reapply it. Spending all day out on a bike exposes your skin to all the same weather elements as the bike itself.
But are you taking as good care of your face (and hands) as you are of your bike?
Athletes who spend as much time outside as cyclists risk vastly accelerated skin ageing because they’re highly exposed to two main things: sun and wind. There’s not a lot you can do to repair damage that’s already been done. But you can promote the healthy growth of new skin cells and make a difference for skin health today, and for the future. 
We asked Valerie Geal, facialist and dermal therapist at her Girona-based skin clinic, Skin Lab, how to put as much care into your skin routine as your training regime.

 

Wash sunscreen off 

That you should use a high factor SPF (even on cloudy days) and reapply regularly goes without saying. But how you take that cream off is just as important as how you put it on.
Also, it’s not just the sun cream itself that you need to cleanse your skin of, it’s the dirt and dust the SPF attracts and the sweat, oil and dead skin cells it traps. That grimy, sticky film sits on top of your skin, under the SPF, and gets rubbed deeper into your skin by your pillow unless you properly cleanse.
“That doesn’t mean washing it off with shower gel in the shower after the ride,” says Valerie. Properly cleansing the skin means washing it once to get the sun cream off, and again to remove the dirt with a cleanser suited to your skin type. A good, gentle cleanser won’t strip your skin barrier of the oils and lipids it needs to function.
And, at the risk of nagging, don’t forget to wash behind your ears and under your jawline.

 

Follow a protective daytime skincare routine

Your daytime products need to protect the skin from UV and give it quality  antioxidant ingredients that can be readily absorbed, such as are found in a high-dose, stable vitamin C cream or serum. 
People with oily skins will only need a combination high SPF moisturiser while those with dry skins will need a separate moisturiser followed by SPF. This will slow down the effects of being outside in the sun and wind all day, holding moisture in the skin, but it won’t repair prior damage.

 

Avoid or reduce sugar

Fast-fuelling carbs are, unfortunately for the skin, high in sugar which negatively impacts collagen and elastin, so ages the skin, and unbalances the microbiome in the gut. That microbiome imbalance leads to another common skin complaint Valerie sees in cyclists: acne. Worse, the skin is the last place we see problems so, it’s a barometer of our overall health and internal ageing.

 

Help the skin repair itself at night

For your nighttime routine, Vitamin A, also known as retinol, ticks just about every box when it comes to skin health. It gives the skin energy, reduces pigmentation, fine lines, acne and some formulas aid cell renewal.
During the day the skin is hard at work defending you against the elements and that daily battle depletes the skin’s natural barrier. To replenish that barrier, the skin needs to be kept acidic so use products with lactic acid or glycolic acid (selected for your particular skin type). Also, if you can add microbiome support at night, that will also aid repair. 

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