The best sunscreen for cyclists

February 24, 2021

The best sunscreen for cyclists

We just had a few 80 degrees F days here in Southern California, so my arms and legs are no longer covered in lycra arm and leg warmers which block the sun. That, in turn, means I need to use full coverage sunscreen on my arms, legs, face, and neck moving forward into the season.

For athletes who spend a lot of time outside, a good sunscreen is essential to prevent skin damage. Because I have pretty fair skin, I'm a heavier sunscreen user and have been through many brands and styles in an attempt to find the "unicorn". 

What I'm looking for in a sunscreen for sports, like road cycling or mountain biking:

  • Non-greasy, so my hands don't slip on the grips or bar tape
  • Doesn't attract grit, dust, and dirt
  • Doesn't sting if it gets in your eyes; or at least stings minimally
  • Unscented, or minimal scent
  • Available in very high SPF
  • Broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection - I'm no scientist, but this is what my doctor tells me to use

Unfortunately, there have been quite a few misses. Usually what ruins a sunscreen for me for any type of athletic use is a greasy, oily feel that won't stay put. Oily sunscreen is too easy to get in your eyes while rubbing away sweat, which is unpleasant. When riding, it can cause your hands to slip off the handlebars or using a multi-tool.

Sunscreen to avoid

I dislike sunscreen that is heavily perfumed or scented (like coconut, for example), because if I occasionally ride to an appointment or office environment, I want to smell neutral, not like the beach. I also disqualify any sunscreen that doesn't provide UVA and UVB protection immediately. 

Finally, some sunscreen simply doesn't provide a high enough SPF rating for athletes who spend a lot of time in the sun. If you don't want to re-apply during a ride, I like SPF 40 or even higher when possible.

My favorite sunscreens for cycling

With these factors in mind, the best sunscreen for cycling I've found is Neutrogena Ultra-Sheer Dry Touch lotion. It's quite dry to the touch and doesn't leave my skin greasy.

It's offered in a variety of SPF ratings from 30-100, I use the heavier 100 rated type on my face and neck. While it comes in pump and aerosol dispensers, I prefer the lotion style to prevent waste.

Unfortunately the Neutrogena product is on the expensive side - about $10 for a smallish 3oz container. That goes fast in the desert in Summer! If you have Costco nearby, value packs sometimes show up there, so check before buying.

My runner-up is Target's "Up & Up" brand Sport Sunscreen lotion. It, too, sells for about $10, but in a 16oz pump container rated 50 SPF. It doesn't quite nail the "Dry Touch" feel like the Neutrogena product, but it's pretty close, and it gets some other things right - mostly free of any fragrance and it's a great value.

When I'm using a lot of sunscreen, a reasonable compromise is the expensive Neutrogena Ultra-Sheer Dry Touch on my face, and the cheaper Up & Up Sport  for arms and legs.

Whatever you choose, don't forget to add a sunscreen for your lips, I like a wax Chapstick brand stick that comes with SPF protection.

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