A safe and sustainable sunscreen for cycling – our collaboration with Team DSM

The need for sun safety in cycling

The need for sun safety in cycling

Cycling is one of the most popular sports in the world. Enthusiasts marvel at the heroics of the professionals at numerous high-profile events each year, including the Giro d’Italia, Spanish La Vuelta, and Tour de France, as well as getting on their own bikes and cycling to keep fit and explore their natural surroundings. However, alongside the fitness benefits and fun, cycling is associated with some risk factors and safety requirements. Here we will discuss one of the potentially less obvious but vitally important safety concerns: sun exposure.

Worldwide, 2-3 million people develop skin cancer every year 1, but most types of skin cancer can be prevented by using sunscreen regularly. Men are at even greater risk than women and are more likely to develop skin cancer by the age of 50 2. Despite this, only 14% of men and 30% of women apply sunscreen daily 3.

To play our part in the fight against skin cancer, DSM aims to help raise awareness of the importance of sun protection and encourage more regular use by developing products tailored to the needs and wants of end users. We aim to achieve this as part of the Sun-Smart Community, driving and advocating for safe, effective and sustainable suncare by building partnerships through industry associations and collaborating with our customers and governmental leaders, sharing knowledge and work together. 

As part of our awareness raising efforts, DSM has been working with the professional international cycling team, Team DSM, as they prepare to compete on the professional tour. Team DSM competes at the highest level of road cycling – with 28 riders on the UCI Men’s World Tour and 13 riders on the UCI Women’s World Tour. Performing at this standard requires elite preparation and, working with the team, we hoped to showcase how athletes can build sun protection into their daily lives and safety preparations without compromising on the activities they are passionate about.

We have a wide and well-established innovation partnership program with Team DSM to develop products that are fit for elite sports teams, including nutrition, recovery, immunity, eye health and sun protection. 


The challenge set by Team DSM

Although sun protection might not be the first thing one thinks of when preparing for a cycle, spending hours on a bike leaves your skin dangerously exposed to UV damage, particularly when cycling in the summer months and in mountainous regions. We know that it is essential to spread awareness of the importance of sun protection for cycling enthusiasts, and that use of sunscreen during exercise is key in the global fight against skin cancer. 

When Team DSM challenged us to develop a sunscreen for them, we therefore saw it as a fantastic opportunity to test ourselves and create a sunscreen that riders really want to use.

We set out to innovate a product formulation that is tailored to the needs of the professional touring cyclists. It needed to be durable, long-lasting, and hold up against sweating, but also easy to apply, breathable, comfortable – nothing greasy or sticky – and not damaging to clothing or equipment. Designing a sunscreen that avoided the need for frequent reapplication while providing the wearer with comfort and lasting sun protection was bound to be a challenge, but we were up for it.

Prototypes and our product

Initially, over a series of race days and camp training, riders from Team DSM’s men’s and women’s teams tested our first prototype, the Millennials’ sun essence SPF 30 cream formulation, which is designed to be easy to spread and has a light texture and soft feel, delivering the breathability desired by athletes. This formulation contains the PARSOL® SLX, PARSOL® Shield, Niacinamide PC and Hyaluronic acid-BT. For more information, visit our website. 

The riders helpfully answered questionnaires, allowing us to gather qualitative data from real life consumers on whether the product met their requirements, and highlight areas for improvement. This process enabled us to develop an iterative series of prototypes, each better suited to the athletes’ needs and wants than the previous. 

This iterative testing and development cycle was supported by DSM’s significant formulation expertise and online Sunscreen Optimizer™ to ensure the necessary SPF factor. Based on the same qualitative feedback from the riders, we also found we needed to finetune the sensory experience by using sensory modifiers to improve the texture and sensorial attributes of sunscreen, including making it less thick, easier to apply and faster-drying, and enhancing absorbance and smoothness.

Further development and sustainability

Following this positive feedback, and with mountain cycling an essential component of touring, DSM has also been working on a second project to develop a higher strength sunscreen with SPF 50, without compromising the sensorial properties. The increase from SPF 30 to SPF 50 brought with it new challenges, as the higher SPF typically requires a heavier formulation with reduced ease of application and breathability.

Again, by harnessing its formulation expertise, DSM was able to successfully develop a sunscreen that delivered not only the required SPF and desired sensory experience, but also used a combination of the most sustainable UV filters. 

We used our Sunscreen Optimizer™ to evaluate and improve the environmental impact of the product, a factor which we know is of increasing importance to consumers, to showcase that it is possible for sunscreens to be effective and pleasant to use while at the same time being environmentally-friendly.

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Setting an example for safe sun practises

We are happy with the feedback we have had from Team DSM, and satisfied that we achieved the technical milestones we set out to – by creating bespoke sunscreens that professional athletes really want to use. 

More importantly however, we believe we have helped to raise awareness for the importance of good sun safety practices in sport. It is our aspiration that before setting off on a cycle, riders’ safety checks should include not only bike maintenance, helmet, a nutritious diet, road safety, etc., but also sun protection – that cyclists and other sportspeople should show their skin the same respect as they do the rest of their bodies and minds. 

We were delighted with a comment from Romain Bardet: “We are now facing more and more really hot days and sunscreen is a really important daily habit before I go riding. It’s part of my safety routine, like wearing a helmet or making sure the bike is in good condition before I set off. 

“I’m already teaching my children, the moment they are outdoors, the street, the park, or the beach, always apply sunscreen – to take care of their skin and protect themselves.”

 

Published on 1 August 2022

References

1.      World’s Health Organization - https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/radiation-ultraviolet-(uv)-radiation-and-skin-cancer.

2.      Cancer Facts and Figures 2021. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/annual-cancer-facts-and-figures/2021/cancer-facts-and-figures-2021.pdf. Accessed January 13, 2021.

3.      “Most Americans don’t use sunscreen” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, May 2015.

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