Sunscreen Advice for Bald Riders
Summary: Sun exposure through vents is a problem for bald riders and some others. It is not limited to men. Here are some interesting adaptations to avoid funny tan lines.
Below are some email messages from bald riders and others who are concerned about helmets and sun protection.
Email us your solution to add to this page. We do not post ads, just advice from other people with hair-free heads!
One emailer says his dermatologist finds that bike riders are high on the list of skin cancer victims. That would include all exposed body locations, but if you are reading this page the head is an important one for you. Many of our inquiries come from Australia and New Zealand, where a hole in the ozone layer made sun protection more critical than ever.
Sunscreen users might want to try the spray-on sunscreen called Kinesys. It is easly to apply, but like any sunscreen you will probably need a sweatband to keep it out of your eyes.
Smith Optics has a helmet line now with a liner that includes bundles of plastic straws called Koroyd. Instead of open vents, you have Koroyd's tubes partially blocking the sunlight. You can check them out here. They might just leave you with burn dots instead of whole vent outline--we don't have any reports yet.
March 10, 2008, Dave Myers
I was reading about bald riders and helmets on your site. All the info pertains to tan lines. My problem is heat rash. I get a terrible heat rash from wearing a helmet in warm to hot conditions. I have tried a helmet liner and that does not work. I have to go to work looking like I have hundreds of small pimples on my head. It makes me want to quit riding even though I love riding my mountain bike. I have seen a dermatologist who says that there is basically nothing they can do. This is a recent development over the past couple of years and the doctor just says, "well our bodies just change as we get older" I can't believe that I am the only one with this problem but cannot find any good information pertaining to to this subject. Any advice?
December 11, 2007, T. Buck
During the hot and cold weather I wear a do-wrap under my helmet. I shave my head. So I find the do-wrap gives the helmet a better fit than without. The helmet does not move around with the do-wrap on. I do have to readjust the helmet when not wearing the do-wraps. When I'm not wearing a do-wrap. I use a product called Sweat GutR to prevent sweat from getting in my eyes. The Sweat GutR does not interfere with the helmet at all. Its a head band that ducks the sweat to the side of the head away from the eyes.
July 18, 2007, J. Delms
A fine-mesh microfiber cloth or netting installed flush to the inner hard surface of a helmet (attached under the soft-foam strips with glue or double-sided tape) will
protect the scalp from the sunís rays. This raised-above-the-scalp netting allows complete ventilation of the head while protecting it. One way to get this netting
is to cut a piece from an old breathable bicycle shirt.
June 26, 2007, KLMitchell
Try powder sunscreen. Colorescience is one of many companies who sell powdered sunscreen (though not the cheapest, I'm sure - do an internet search for powder sunscreen & see what you can find). It works great, and won't be greasy on your scalp. It can also be used by people with thin hair with better results than a greasy lotion.
June 15, 2005, Christopher Garrett (caution: apparently has hair!)
I like having one because it keeps the liner cleaner and the helmet does not pull your hair.
May 25, 2005, John Okon
I would check out www.dowrap.com They have a nice variety of under helmet head wraps, skull caps etc. Their SweatVac products are all performance fabrics that offer excellent sun protection and keep the sweat from dumping into your eyes/glasses. They're basically made of the same fabric that a good jersey is made from so they actually help to keep you cooler. They also have some great cold weather stuff and some cool women specific head wear too.
September 15, 2004, Keith Bovee
Check out Do Wraps at their web site. They make helmet liners for sweat absorption and sunburn protection. Made for bicycle, motorcycle, and other sports helmets out of a variety of high quality materials they come in different styles and colors.
August 18, 2004, Jerry Ciemny
I tried do-rags and found them too hot and awkward. They usually left red lines on my head after a ride where the seams were. I tried sunscreen, but it left me with a yucky residue and sometimes a rash/pimples. I tried using electrical tape to cover the holes where the sun entered. That was a nice cheap solution, but looked awful and was not elegant.
I wrote every helmet manufacturer I could and was told there are no appropriate helmets and no plans to address our issue (Even though over half of the guys responding from the helmet companies said THEY had the same problem!)
I DID hear a rep tell me about one helmet, and saw a picture. It was a Limar 707 in blue. Even though she provided a U.S. distributor, I was unable to actually find anyone who could sell me one. The shell had the vent indentations visible, but not cut out. Price was supposed to be around $130, I think.
After watching Le Tour I figured I would try a time trial helmet. Heck, if it was cool enough for a pro rider, I d give it a try.
I found a Louis Garneau Prologue Helmet at Nashbar. It was even on sale from $120 to $90, though that is more than I ever spent on a helmet before. I have used it for 2 weeks now and highly recommend it. (No business interest, just a consumer) YMMV
It comes in 4 cool styles/colors and has NO VENTS on the top. There are 3 small vents in the front, but I think they are small enough and horizontal, so direct sunlight is not an issue. It comes with a clear visor, but I had to remove it because it interfered with my eyeglasses. It has a bit of a tail in the back. Even though it doesn t have lots of vents, I have found it to be ok so far in 80+ degree weather.
I hope this helps.
BHSI note: We don't recommend helmets with long tails. When you hit the pavement that tail can push the helmet aside. Using foam or solara on a conventional helmet's top vents should be a better solution.
August 20, 2003, Thom Parks, Bell Sports
Wouldn't you know a helmet company guy would suggest this solution to funny tan lines on a "hair free" head? By alternating between two or three helmets (or four or five?) you can mitigate the funny tan marks. This method does not really work for touring unless you want to haul extra helmets.
Wear a "dew rag" under the helmet. Not only for sweat absorption, but also those funny tan lines.
I wear a 10 inch square of Solara brand sunscreen fabric under my helmet.
5 March 2003, Dave Farrier, Georgia
I use an equestrian helmet when bicycle riding, because it provides much better protection from the sun than any bicycle helmet I can find. I can't recommend this for everyone, because the safety standards are different. The local horse supply store has several styles of equestrian helmets. Wish someone would test them to the bicycle standards, so we would know if they were okay.
Handi Wipes (those woven cloth-like kitchen wipe-ups) are a cheap and effective helmet liner for bald heads. Buy them in a pack of six in grocery stores or anywhere household supplies are sold. Fold the Handi Wipe in quarters to make a 10.5 inch by 5.5 inch rectangle and lay it in the top of the helmet.
Handi Wipes are woven, which allows the air to flow through, are very absorbent, and dry almost instantly when rinsed and squeezed. On long bicycle tours, at rest stops I rinse the Handi Wipe in water, use it as a wash cloth to freshen up, re-rinse, and then put it back in the helmet slightly damp for a cool start up. I also carry one in the underseat bag for bike cleanup.
Charlie in Prince George, VA
I use a product from the motorcycle world. It's called a Texas head skin. It's a very absorbent cloth material that is shaped to fit your head. One problem is the thickness. Although not all that thick I had to remove my sizing pads for a correct fit. They work very well but unfortunately they are hard to find.
Schwinnjim from South Jersey
From: Don Hollingshead
Subject: Sunburn Advice for Bald Riders
Agnes Burns, a member of the Elbow Valley Cycle Club, makes helmet liners for folicly challenged folk like her husband Bill. The liners are stretchy (one size fits all) and have a neck flap. She sews them at home in white grey, blue and black coolmax fabric.
I am not balding but wear one because it wicks the moisture from my brow and scalp. A quick rinse under the tap, a wring and its ready to go again.
For more information, contact Agnes at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have no commercial interest in what Agnes does with her sewing machine--just a sincere interest in helping helmet wearers be more comfortable and sun safe, balding, thin hair or otherwise.
Date: June 25, 2002
I have been experiencing this more often--especially now that I keep my hair very short (don't have the guts to shave it all the way).
Having tried various sunscreens--the "dry" spray-on types definitely seem to work best--and having over-heated using cotton bandanas and cycling caps, I decided to look for an alternative.
Several companies make CoolMax (or equivalent) "do rags" that work wonderfully. All the major catalogs (Performance, Nashbar, Excel, Colorado Cyclist) carry them. They are light, wick sweat, prevent "run-off," and definitely prevent vent-tan lines. They are shaped with built-in ties and neck flaps, so you don't have to do any fancy folding to put them on.
My husband and I use Solumbra clothing for nearly all of our outdoor activities - light weight, comfortable, quick-drying, and sun-proof. Their under-helmet "drape" is great for protecting one's head (my husband's) and neck (both of ours) at the same time. The material is so light it interferes negligibly with air flow, and its wicks well. The only problem is that the straps from the helmet hold the drape down somewhat, closer to one's face. We don't worry about drawing attention. We wear drapes all the time while hiking, and we are used to drawing attention riding our recumbents! I highly recommend their pants, shirts and gloves as well. They are at sunprecautions.com.
For a good selection of inexpensive cotton head wraps $(.4.73 ea) check out
www.sunrisedistributors.com and click on Zan Headgear.
From: Scott Nichols
Subject: coolmax bandanas
For those of you having trouble growing grass on that busy street, check
out the "headsweats.com" website. They have cotton and coolmax
headsweats and sweatbands and other products to take care of the sweat
and the tan lines. The built in sweat band reduces the sweat in the
eyes problem and I don't find them too hot. I live in Cincinnati and the
hot humid weather is never a problem. I don't ride easy either and I
sweat a lot.
Subject: Sunburns through helmet vents
From: "Ellen F. Mac Garrigle"
Date: Tue, 28 Apr 1998
Don't laugh, guys -- it has happened to me on more than one occasion,
and I (unlike my husband) am not famous for a sparsely-populated area on
top of the scalp. I have also seen some truly interesting tan lines on
gentlemen with the Patrick Stewart/Michael Jordan look.
I have the lovely (hah!) gift of thin hair with a part that happens to
run right underneath one of the vents on my Bell Image helmet. Most of
my favorite rides around DC are east-west-east trips, so if I leave late
morning, by the time I turn around I have been riding right into the sun
for two or three hours during the Prime Tanning Rays period. And don't
even ask about tours where I am riding in more or less one direction for
the entire day (it's burned skiing and swimming, too, but cycling is the
Its hard to put sunblock on your head (of course, its not like your hair
looks great after hours in the helmet anyway), but I have found two
There is (don't laugh) a spray-on sunblock. They sell it at REI I think
and I've seen it other places. My husband told me about it because it
worked for him. If I spray it on the part, no burn, but it's expensive
and I'm not sure how sweatproof it really is.
Fold a bandanna in quarters and put it in the top of the helmet (under
the vent, over the part/bald spot). Additional advantage is that you
can pour water on it to keep cool on a hot day.
I have not found another helmet I like as much, and the part won't move
(short of getting a perm), but the rag on my head, while odd-looking
when I take off the helmet, is not nearly so odd as peeling sunburn on top of my head.
Maybe my head is a little more sensitive than most, but maybe this will help someone...
I shaved my head two weeks ago. And noticed that I started getting
funny tan lines from my helmet. I thought to myself, I've worn this
helmet for how long now? And never needed it (I never crash). Do I
really need to wear it? And put up with these tan lines?
I decided on wearing a thing called a "flydanna" under my helmet.
It's kind of like a bandanna that's made to tie in the back. Good thing
I did. Two days ago while road biking, I went down at about 35 mph on
Chevy Chase Dr. in Glendale, CA. I shattered my collar bone (R.
clavicle), and shattered my helmet too. My head had a slight bump on it.
The doctors, upon looking at the remains of my helmet, said if I had not
been wearing that helmet I would be in a different part of the hospital.
The last time I bought a helmet, I wore a bandana to find a good fit while
wearing it. I now don a bandana under my helmet in all seasons. It helps me
keep warmer in the cold weather and protects me from scalp tan lines in
sunny weather. More importantly, since I perspire profusely from the head
with thinning hair, it also absorbs the water in warm to hot weather and
keeps it from running down onto my sunglasses. The bandana also adds a
comfort layer between my scalp and helmet. However, I would love to find
bandanas made of polypro (instead of cotton) to better wick away the
moisture -- anyone suggest a source?. BTW, to wear the bandana as a "hat"
under a helmet, fold it in half to form a triangle and then tie two corners
behind your head and secure the third corner which covers the top of the
head. Finally, when resting during a ride, I usually take off my helmet.
The bandana covers what is left of my thinning hair and hides the dreaded
matted-down helmet-hair effect. Chicks love the look -- or at least I
imagine they do!
George Kollar, Chicago
I use Coppertone Sport SPF 15 or 30. It dries quickly and does not cause my
eyes to burn when I sweat.
Josh Berger, M.D.
Dermatologist and bike nut
I use Oil of Olay "Daily UV Protectant Beauty Fluid", SPF 15, on my upper
face. It doesn't sting the eyes at all (for most people). The only problem is
the "beauty" part, I've been using the stuff for years.....no sign of beauty yet.
Santa Monica, California
From: Mike Leung
What brand of sunscreen can you use that doesn't blind you when your
sweat streams it off your scalp (or forehead in my case)
and into your eyes? Anything I use really stings.
Mike, we've had great luck with "Aloe Gator" SPF 40, Waterproof,
Non-Greasy, Does NOT Sting Eyes. This stuff is expensive, so I use it only
on my face while reserving the "cheap" sunscreen for all other
Aloe Gator Suncare
8726 Royal Lane
Irving, Texas, USA 75063
The father of a friend relied upon what he called "scotch hair" to keep from
getting sunburned through the vent holes. He simply used a swatch of
newspaper - the "scotch" adjective reflecting the price of the product.
I tried it myself when caught on a long ride in the sun early one season.
(Probably, June or July since I live in Oregon.) I found, however, that
newspaper does tend to leave a gray tint, so I now use a thin single-layer
paper towel torn to cover only what is needed. I find it restricts airflow
only slightly, is cheap, readily available (try McDonalds or Burger King),
doesn't cover too much (like a bandana), and doesn't leave any residue on the
helmet or pads. In the words of Dave Barry, I am not making this up.
As another "follicularly challenged" cyclist on this list, I am also
interested in any well-designed "no-hair-net" helmet. My own current
favorite is a Z Leader 1991 "Avanti" model, which I recently found in
a local discount warehouse. This is a Canadian-made, Snell B-90 certified
helmet, with four small low vents in the front and three tiny vents in
back - the top of the helmet (where it really counts) is solid, and I am
satisfied with the ventilation.
Unfortunately, this helmet seems to be out of production. Leader Sport
Products, the manufacturer/importer, has apparently dropped its helmet
line and now concentrates on protective eyewear. [They do have a website
at www.zleader.com - if you want to check with them about any surplus
stock they might have.]
Also unfortunately, the current trends in helmet design seem to favor
more vents (and less protection - at least for the alopecic riders).
Now that Winter is upon us, I will break out my trusty old Bailen Bucket,
which has no vents at all, and an expandable head band to adjust to any
cap underneath. Alas, the Bailen is also unavailable (and is not to be
trusted according to the good folks at the BHSI - before you succumb to
It has occurred to me that another possible source for imput on this
topic might be the organizers of large fund-raising rides for cancer
research [eg: the American Cancer Society, the Pan-Mass Challenge, etc.]
since many of their riders are chemotherapy patients and are thus
(temporarily) hairless. I suspect they've had more experience dealing
with this question than any other group.
Hyde Park, Mass. U.S.A.
I'm well established in the ranks of the "follicularly-challenged".
For the past several years I have simply used a bandana folded
diagonally and snugly tied, with the odd vertex tucked under the knot
at the back. This not only completely shields my cranium from the
sun, but helps reduce (or eliminate) the amount of sweat that
otherwise would trickle and drip into my eyes. When doused under a
cool faucet, it also provides a "swamp cooler" effect, helping me
-= Keith Adams =-
Bethesda, MD, USA
Well....I have no hair. At all. I find sunscreen works just fine -
look for one that bills itself as "waterproof" or "won't wash off."
One side note - I generally end up buying an extra small size helmet - no
padding in there to take up the extra room.
Pete "Clean Head" LaVerghetta
Re the problem of too much sun through the vents, a friend of ours glued
some screening on the inside of his helmet to (partially) block the sun
and still get air flow. He used the type of screening that is used for
patio covers etc.. It can be found in garden supply centers as well as
building supply centers. In most cases you can choose the amount of blockage you
want. He says it does the job of maintaining ventilation while blocking
most of the sun. It apparently worked well for him on our September trip
to the Loire Valley and Beyond since he reported no problems with sunburn
on the top of his head after 9 days of mostly sunny cycling.
Gene & Bobbi, The Tandem Turtles
I have tried many kinds of sunscreen, and the combination of sweat, the
movement and rubbing of the helmet, etc. cause this to not work at all.
FWIW, the best of the bunch is a product called Hot Heads, which is a
non-greasy, alcohol based spray on sunscreen, but even it comes off to some
extent. I do use it in general, however, in that it is a relief to not have
the greasy stuff all over! This leaves me, and most other balding riders with bandannas over the head, which adds heat.
I have tried, in addition, helmet covers -- hotter than the bandanna,
cycling caps worn backward -- also hotter. A company named Solumbra makes
a helmet cover with a neck flap, which has a distinct "Sheik" look. I
just could not bring myself to try that!
Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2000
From: "bruce w. menke"
i got to agree with all the other bandana sporting
bikers out there: sun protection, evaporative cooling,
and salt water retention/eye irritation deterence.
i've been using one for 6 years now and find it
uncomfortable to ride without one. i'm not sure about
george kollar's observation that the chick's love it,
but it has given this tall skinny white guy just a
little measure of cool. on a trip down the east coast
several years ago, a teenager i met positively noted
my 'do rag'
- If you need a headscarf, some of the sources are SewinJ's Biker Wraps, Zan headgear, River Road, BMI, Biker's Choice, BodyTeq, Sweatvac, Wickie Wear and Ladies Scrunchies. And here is a sunscreen product that the vendor says is formulated for bald heads.
- We also have a page up on how do-rags and head covers can affect helmet fit. That should not be a big problem with the thin materials used for sunscreens.
- Those who need a wide visor for sun protection might want to look at this Australian rider's solution. In the best tradition of innovative bicyclists who make their own gear, he has melded a wide brim Tilley-style hat with his helmet. If you try a similar modification of your helmet, be sure to limit the brim's ability to snap down in your face in a high wind and block your vision. It would most likely happen on a downhill, while you were traveling at high speed.
This page was updated or partially revised on: March 24, 2015.