After my first fifty kilometer ride in the February heat, I noticed visible differences in my skin; mostly my arms and face. I had no helmet then and had worn a short-sleeved v-neck top. My skin is generally dry, and a little dehydration shows in patches. The cycle helmet, especially one with a visor plays a major role in protecting your face and eyes against the hot, bright sun.
Cycling pretty much exposes you to the elements; the rain, the sun and gritty sand-laden wind. With the sun having the most impact.
It helps to drink lots of water at intervals on a long ride and at the beginning and end of each short commute.
I know, I know, they say “Black don’t crack”. Trust me, your skin will thank you later for taking good care of it as you cycle. No point in being fit and toned with damaged skin.
Generally, a cyclist gets dirtier than the average Nairobi commuter; the car fumes, the dust and sweat. Freshen up at your commute destination, especially if your ride is long and up-hill, as any Nairobi ride is certain to be. I had not noticed how hilly Nairobi is until I became a commuter cyclist. I am looking forward to cycling in the cool of June-August.
Face: Your first protection is the helmet with a sun visor extension. If you can afford it, get your cycling goggles with UV/UVB protection too, they come in handy in the rain as well. The goggles mainly protect your eyes from dust and bugs. If you wear prescription spectacles keep them on, they are sufficient for short urban commutes.
If you wear sun lotion or a greasy facial moisturizer, be prepared to be covered in grime as it will catch the dust in the wind. It’s nothing a thorough cleanse won’t cure. I add a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice to a gentle maize meal flour scrub after washing off the dirt with water.
After the Thika-Nairobi Highway ride, the skin on my cheeks was dry and mildly peeled from the gritty wind after two days. The boys probably don’t think too much of this. Girls know what I am talking about.
Remember to clean the removable the inside padding of your helmet between uses to avoid a pimple out break on your forehead. Remove the padding from the Velcro strips and squeeze gently in warm soapy water, rinse, put out to dry and replace. If I am in a rush, I use methylated spirit and a piece of cotton to gently rub off any dirt and grime on the helmet padding.
The helmet straps also collect a lot of sweat and dirt. they need to be cleaned regularly to keep you from breaking out on the sides of your face. The cotton and methylated spirit helps for quick cleaning.
This article too has some great skin care tips, I suggest extending some of them to your neck, arms and legs. My favourite are 1, 5, 6, 12, 14 and 16; they can be done at minimal cost with no side effects.
Use your regular shampoo, shower gel or kipande (bar soap) to clean the inside of your helmet. If you use an oily hair product you may need to clean your helmet daily.
Hands and Forearms: Finger-less gloves not only give you a better grip on the handle bars, but protect your hands from the abrasive wind and hot sun. The skin on the back of the hands is very thin and needs extra care.
The gloves also reduce the soreness resulting from the pressure of your weight on the handle bars. Trust me, on a long ride, you will feel every nerve in your palms being pinched against the bars. Get them gloves!!
The forearms bear the most brunt of the brute sun. I had scaly upper forearms after that first fifty kilometre ride in the February heat. On subsequent rides I added some olive oil to my usual body lotion before venturing out. I get the one litre bottle that lasts six to seven months. (It’s great for your pancakes too!)
Wearing long sleeves is the simplest solution. Make sure it’s cotton or at least a breathable fabric. Cycling jerseys are made using a special breathable protective fabric.
On the days following a long ride in the hot sun, I use a table-spoon of maize meal (Unga wa Ugali) or sugar mixed with a little olive oil for a gentle body scrub on the scaly parts of your skin. It’s gentle on the face. I prefer the maize meal to the sugar. It’s best done in the shower after a regular wash. It’s less abrasive with the flour if you have a sensitive skin.
I got the same results using regular liquid cooking oil for the scrubs. If it’s good to eat, it’s good for your skin too. The olive oil is also a great plain moisturizer if you have a dry skin.
Neck: You can tell the age of a tree by the rings on its trunk and a girl’s age by the rings on her neck. A light scarf loosely tied around your neck reduces the winds abrasive effect on the sensitive skin there on the long rides.
Try to wear a round-necked top or tee, with the round collar as close to your collar-bone as possible, to protect your upper chest area from the abrasive wind.
Legs: I don’t own cycling leggings or shorts. I wear my regular trousers rolled up to my knees or mid-calf leggings. This exposes the skin on the legs to the same abrasion caused by the wind with particles in it, while any moisturizer you may have applied is dried off as well.
Adding olive oil or a thin layer of Vaseline before the usual body lotion straight out of the shower helps. The skin on the legs is tougher that the face, but the sugar-olive oil scrub in the shower helps keep them soft and sexy as necessary.
Having your bike fitted with rubber pedals helps. I started out with metal spiked pedals and got my bare shins banged up quite a bit.
Lips: The reality of cycling in this hot, December to March sun, is painfully chapped lips for a few days after a long ride. Just hydrate thoroughly on plain water before, after and during the ride. Use some Vaseline too.
Resist the urge to bite off the dry peeling skin on your lips.
If it’s not too painful after the ride, brush gently with your toothbrush as you brush your teeth before bed and use some Vaseline or olive oil as you go to bed. Wake up to soft kiss-able lips the next morning.
Take care! Stay looking good!
Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!