Sunscreen protection with new summer cycling sleeves

Freezer sleeves, Arm Screens and Arm Skins all new summer products which act like a material version of sunscreen, but – what’s the difference, how do they fit, and do they work?

Sleeve test sunscreenSunscreen Protection

With lots of talk nowadays about skin cancer, sunburn, and other skin ailments, some garments can offer technical advantages like SPF50 protection in a lightweight garment. It’s common to have these features in jerseys and shorts but the idea of wearing long sleeves in the summer is foreign to most cyclists. Who doesn’t want nice brown arms? or to feel the wind while you are cruising along. Companies have innovated around garment technology, especially Aero, but certain companies are now incorporating technologies that protect you from the sun and even managing sweat, keeping you cooler than bare skin.
Is this a fleeting trend or is there some actual benefit and some products that really work? I’m on a journey to test a few from top brands like Castelli, Rapha and Columbia Sportswear, each has a slightly different take on the situation and the technology applied. But above all protection from the risks of skin cancer without having to deal with messy sunscreen is a win in my book.

Products Tested
Having four garments to compare, and using these garments mixed on different ride occasions, I used the sleeves in conditions from cooler starts (mid 50’s) to hot days peaking at 90degrees. My baseline was the lightweight Defeet armskins, these I have been wearing for a long time, it’s a lightweight sleeve with no UV protection, great fit and very long so no issues with wrist creep.

Even within the same manufacturers brand, there are different fits. These fits vary and some brands may be more suitable for your body style. I’m long and thin and have 35″ arms. In general, the garments I tested fit well, some fit slightly better than others. Shown below you can see the variety of length. If you are a gangly person (like me), you might want to steer towards the longer ones I tested.


In general, all these designs can be summed up as a “lightweight arm warmer”, some function more to cool than others and all blocked the sun up to a power of SPF50, which by itself is great #fuckcancer. The arm sleeves / skins are great for use on sunny days and early starts where things start out cooler temps and raise over the course of the ride to a blazing day, especially useful where you might be a little chilly on a shaded descent before the full sun. And the great thing is that you don’t have to take them off later, just keep em on as they will be protecting you. An interesting material aspect here is that there is a divide between Nylon and Polyester as the main component.  Polyester is said to retain heat less, have better moisture properties and is less stretchy but Nylon has a nicer surface finish and is stretchier. All had elements of Elastane for stretch and fit. The in-hand feel is hard to distinguish, but once you put the sleeves on you can tell the smoother feeling and better fitting versions.

Castelli – Arm Skins

UPF 50+ protection $30 – Size S/M

These were the smallest of the group and I found that the Sun Screens from Castelli could have been a little longer an extra 1.5″ would have been really useful to fill the gap between the sleeve and small summer riding gloves. I was wearing a small/medium (13″ unstretched) so a size large could be an option. They hug your arm shape well, feel a little like a compression sleeve, have a nice texture and hand feel to them.

Function & Performance
They held their shape when wet. The grippers worked well and I never had a problem even on the longest days with needing to reposition them or pull them up. The skins screened out a lot of sun rays, scientifically it’s hard to say if they lived up to their claimed 50SPF but my arms were never burnt or red even after a long day in the sun.The company and the packaging make no claim to cooling effects, just protection from UV. I would second that there is no extra cooling effect other than this still is a lightweight garment.

Materials & Quality
From a materials perspective, these were unique in the test, opting not for Polyester but using 89% nylon with 11% elastane, they feel the softest and the best on the skin out of all the products. The sleeves were of what I call a tube construction and the seams were almost non-perceivable. The stitches and construction are high grade and taught. The sleeves have a knit like appearance, an appealing finish, not too shiny, not too dull, a tiny bit of weave / knit to the material that seems to compliment many different riding jerseys. You know when things work together better, you feel more confident.

Overall Appeal
I liked this sleeve a lot, the feel is great, for it to work though they need to be significantly longer. Great sleeves for chillier summer starts , then you leave them on all ride. These sleeves had the best material feel in the whole group and always stayed snug.


Castelli_sleeve_01 sunscreen
castelli_ends_02 sunscreen
End Grips



Castelli Chill Sleeves

UV and Cooling – $40 These can be found in  Castelli’s Triathalon section. – Size S/M

These are a little longer in length (18.5″ unstretched) than the regular Castelli Arm Skins (above). I liked that, they also run a smidge looser than the regular Arm Skins, but never to a point where they were baggy. Off the bike, these sleeves definitely felt the coolest temperature, when sliding them on, maybe a combination of the finish of the material near the skin or the thinness of the material.

Function & Performance
These are the only sunscreen sleeves in my test that had a printed pattern on them. This pattern was heat sensitive, the ink was dark when cool and light when hot. This enabled you to see where and when the sleeve was working, and more importantly, it reminded you that if you were super hot, you could squirt a little water on the sleeve while riding to reduce temp. Is this a gimmick? I’d say no, as it does have a function as it’s a clever visual reminder. At the top of the sleeve is a small strip of silicone like material to act as a gripper. keeping the sleeves up. I found this a nice detail.

Materials & Quality
The sleeves were made from mainly polyester 91% with 9% elastane adding the stretch. The sleeves are of what I call a tube construction and the seams were almost non-perceivable. The stitches and construction are high grade and taught. No problems here.

Overall Appeal
The pattern is pretty cool looking and they felt good on long rides, comfortable. Castelli claim that these cool and protect from UV – My perception aligned with this and the sleeves did feel cooler on hot days in the saddle.


castelli_tri_sleeve_02 sunscreen
Castelli Chill sleeve – slightly looser than the Castelli arm skins above
Castelli Chill Sleeve
castelli_tri_sleeve_03 sunscreen
Heat sensitive ink, showing where things are working
castelli_tri_ends_01 sunscreen
Stich and construction
Castelli Freezer

Rapha – Arm Screens

UV and Cooling Arm Screens – $55 – Size Medium

The Rapha arm screens were the most expensive in the test, but only by a few dollars, fit wise they had the best fit overall, maybe due to their construction They measured in at 18.5″ unstretched and unique to Rapha the construction of the sleeve has a couple of panels joined which allow for a more tailored fit and articulation at the elbow. at the top of the sleeve is a subtle material change to some kind of silicone like material to act as a gripper. I found this a nice detail.

Function & Performance
They performed well when on the bike and moving, initially they felt the warmest of all the sleeves tested when just putting them on. They assisted in the evaporation of sweat, maybe not quite as well as Columbia Sportswear or Castelli’s Chill sleeves but that’s an anecdotally rather than scientific fact. They block up to spf 50 and use a technology that has been around for a while called ColdBlack as a sunscreen, it’s been on Capo products for a while. a treatment for the fabric that makes the material cool against the skin. I have tested a few Capo jerseys with this on and it really does work and removes your fear of using dark colours on the hottest days. So go ahead and order the Navy or black ones.

Materials & Quality
The sleeves were made from 90% Polyester 10% Elastane, they were the only ones on the test that were multi-panel construction and tailored to the shape of the arm (see photos), the sections are ultrasonically welded and have a slight bend in the design to represent the geometry of the arm. I found that having them on the arm in the right place was easy as the panels line up naturally and there is a small circle seam that aligns with the pivot of your elbow. The stitching was well done, tight and of a high visual quality. However, the material here felt the lightest / least durable on the test, only time will tell and so far after several months of use they are holding up well, so maybe this is just a misperception.

Overall Appeal
The attention to details and the care of construction really made Rapha stand out. A great fit with nice details such as the subtle details of coloured stitching near the wrist and upper and an extra touch of care. Available in white, navy, pink and black is a nice touch with more choice than the standard black and white of others.


rapha_sleeve_01 sunscreen
Rapha – Nice top surface logoing
rapha_sleeve_02 sunscreen
rapha_elbow_01 sunscreen
Inside elbow detail
Sleeve end
rapha_ends_02 sunscreen
Upper sleeve end
rapha_ends_03 sunscreen
At the wrist detail
Also available in Navy
and Pink Hi Viz
rapha_black_arm_screens sunscreen
Rapha Black

Columbia Sportswear

Omni Freeze Zero Arm Sleeves  $30 – Size medium

These sleeves are one of the less expensive sleeves in the test and I think Columbia had initially developed them for Fishing activities, they certainly don’t market towards a cycling crowd. The fit is snug and they are on the smaller side (17″ unstretched) so they might leave a little gap between wrist and hand on long arm people. 

Function & Performance
The sleeves definitely felt cooler, and help with the evaporation of sweat, on par with the Castelli Chill sleeves but the sleeves were itchy on the skin, especially around the inside elbow. This made me not want to use them for long at all. Whilst riding arms move a lot and this only highlighted the scratchy nature of these sleeves. The sleeves contain no grippy material to keep them up, but that did not seem to be an issue, they stayed up fine, maybe due to the little bit of a snugger fit.

Materials & Quality
These sleeves are mainly made from 90% Polyester 10% Elastane and I noticed that the stitching pattern used was a little broader or wider than the cycling brands, not as tight a stitch, and a lot of hanging threads. 

Overall Appeal
One of the first things I noticed was that these sunscreen sleeves come in some cool patterns / colours that were different from most cycling apparel. I opted for the digital camo version! Now with that said if they improved the feel I would be able to use them. Unfortunately, these were the only ones in the test that were itchy / scratchy enough that I don’t recommend them.


Columbia_Sleeve_01 sunscreen
Columbia sportswear
Columbia_sleeve_02 sunscreen
Columbia sportswear
columbia_ends_01 sunscreen
End detail – course stiching
blue_marine_columbia sunscreen
River something?
camo_blue_columbia sunscreen
crazyblue_columbia sunscreen
Sea blue
columbia_on_bike sunscreen
On bike


Decide what’s best for you and get them in your wardrobe rotation as soon as you can. Sunscreen protection is never a bad thing, especially since sunblock cream is rubbish. I’m finding that these arm skins/ sleeves / screens are becoming my go to and I expect I will be wearing them all summer. So check back for updates.

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