Women Bike: Skin care

As women, there are a lot of topics relating to cycling comfort which are either not frequently talked about or just too embarrassing to ask a male salesperson at the local bike shop. Topics like: “I’m hurting down there” or “Do you have any tips about riding while menstruating?” or “Why can’t I find cycling clothes that fit?” You get the idea: personal, women-specific and potentially awkward to explain. We’ll do our best in addressing these topics here.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you are spending lots of time in the saddle, biking to work, for fun, for fitness or for errands around town. You enjoy the time spent outside and you feel great...except your skin.

Your skin is either dry, blotchy and itchy from all the wind and cold air or it’s breaking out due to the sweat and dirt. Keeping your skin happy and healthy can be tough when you’re spending a lot of time in the saddle, but here are some tips that may help:

Healthy skin starts with your daily moisturizer

One of the best things you can do for your skin is to use a daily moisturizer. For your face, be sure to use a moisturizer with an SPF of 15 or greater, because even when the sun isn’t brightly shining, you can still get sunburned. Also lotion your arms and legs daily, especially after you shave. Lotion will not only make your skin feel soft, it helps protect against cold air, dirt and road grime. Look for lotion with natural moisturizing ingredients such as oatmeal and shea butter or the repairing qualities of aloe vera. There are several brands on the market that make cyclist-specific skin care such as Rapha, Mad Alchemy, Doc’s Skincare and more. Most of these brands focus on (after) shave products, chamois cream and embrocation.


If you ride in shorts or capris year-round, try experimenting with embrocation during those fall and winter rides. Embrocation or “embro” is a warming cream or oil that keeps your legs warm while protecting them against water, wind and dirt. Embro also loosens up tight muscles and can be soothing to an aching lower back while riding. There are many different types of embrocations on the market with different warmth levels– from “I don’t even notice it” to “I’m burning! Get this off me”–so if you’re new to using embrocation, I suggest using a low or medium warmth embro. Wash your hands immediately after applying and avoid applying embro near places you wouldn’t want to burn. Finally, be prepared for the embro to re-activate in the shower, sometimes even uncomfortably so.

Not a fan of the warming sensation? Slather on some extra lotion on your legs before you head out the door to protect your skin from the wind, rain or dirt.


Sunscreen is essential in protecting your skin against those damaging UV rays, but finding a good sunscreen can be tricky. Many sunscreens feel oily or sticky and can clog your pores while others are useless the moment you start sweating. What you’ll want is a sweat-/ water-resistant sunscreen that doesn’t make you look like a mime. Look for sunscreens that contain UV protecting ingredients like ecamsule, avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide paired with skin-benefiting ingredients such as vitamin E, aloe vera or shea butter.

Long ride in desert sun? Sunscreen alone won’t be enough. Protect your bare skin with arm and leg skins. These light-weight layers add a protective layer of SPF 50 and up. Don’t forget to protect your scalp with a thin cap.


On extremely cold and/or windy days, there is little to protect your skin other than covering the majority up.Try Vaseline to protect your lips, nose and cheeks from the cold air.

After-the-ride skin treatment:

  • Shower, wash your face, cleanse as soon as possible after your ride. Shower not an option? Carry wet-wipes to wipe of sweat and dirt.
  • Re-moisturize: either apply your daily moisturizer or speed up recovery with products containing aloe vera in case of a sunburn; tea tree oil or arnica to calm skin and relax aching joints; oatmeal or shea butter to repair dry skin.
  • Epsom salts baths. Epsom salt baths are a great thing you can do for your body after a hard ride. A mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate, Epsom salt is considered a natural cure to a number of ailments including relaxing the nervous system, soothing joint and muscles aches pain, healing cuts, drawing toxins from the body and yes, curing skin problems. ​

Breakout protection:

We all thought that we’d leave those breakouts and acne behind when we outgrew puberty, but alas, for many of us, that isn’t true. Sweat, trapped heat, chafing, sunscreen - all of these clog your pores and can cause your skin to breakout. Here are some prevention tips:

  • Clean your helmet regularly. The forehead and chin are two trouble spots for breakouts. One way to prevent breakouts is by cleaning the pads and straps that make contact with your skin. Most helmets have removable pads. Hand wash these pads with detergent made for sensitive skin. Rinse well and air dry. Give your helmet straps the same treatment. Some brands even sell the pads individually. If that’s the case with your helmet, I’d recommend replacing the pads once a year if you ride a lot.
  • Keep your hair and sweat out of your face. When sweats drips down your face, it bring dirt and oil with it. Keep sweat out of your face (and eyes!) with a headband or skull cap. Designed to be worn with a helmet, cycling-specific caps and headband tend to be lightweight and airy so the wicking fabric will keep the sweat at bay while keeping you cool. Do clean your headwear frequently.
  • Clean the trouble areas before and after your ride.
  • Breakouts on your chest, neck or back? Allow your skin to breathe by wearing a loose fitting jersey or wear a sweat-wicking baselayer.

Thanks for the positive feedback to this column. I’m happy to help! Please continue to email me your questions at amrook@cascade.org and I’ll answer them anonymously.

Read our previous columns here!