CyclistBusiness Week just ran an article you might expect to find in a supermarket newsstand magazine titled  Bare-Legged in Winter: Trying out a cycling trick in place of tights.”

The writer, Molly Young, discovered a strategy used by hard-core cyclists to keep their bare skin warm in cold weather.  Her hope was that it would provide a viable strategy for avoiding tights when commuting to work in cold weather (just the thought makes me want to shiver!).

So here’s the trick:  embrocation cream.  Cyclists rub these balms over exposed legs to increase blood flow and warm the skin.  Sounds like a winner for us Frosties, right?  Reading the article, I was hopeful to have discovered a new miracle product for Raynaud’s sufferers. The formula for these products has three main components:

  • Natural ingredients (most of which appear to smell like Vick’s Vaporub)
  • A buttery base (creating a thick, waxy texture for protection against the elements)
  • Capsicum (the active warming ingredient – an extract of red chili pepper)

The capsicum is the key to warmth, as it stimulates nerve endings and increases blood flow.  For cyclists, that means a faster warm up, increased oxygenation, and the potential for higher power output.  For us Frosties, we just want the warmth!

Before you get too excited over this discovery, one web site describes these products as having a warming effect that “ranges from stimulating to holy habanero”.  While capsicum can stimulate warmth, it can also result in itching and burning (like biting into a hot pepper…).

Molly tested three top-rated brands of these creams and describes her results as follows:

  • One cream provided some slight warmth plus some tolerable pain – “like being rubbed with the rough side of a sponge.”
  • Another cream suggested shaving first – a big mistake (she used the word “scream” in her description).  No real benefit on this one, just pain.
  • The third cream worked too well – describing the effect as “my leg pores blazed like a thousand tiny bonfires…” and continued to be a source of discomfort (that’s a euphemism compared to her words) throughout her workday.  She suggests marketing the product to “chronic self-flagellators.”

Based on Molly’s experience, I’d suggest a safer alternative.  Try a cream called Warm Skin.  While Warm Skin has no direct warming properties, it does work to provide a protective layer against the cold.  It’s used by arctic explorers, the NFL, and U.S. Postal workers and gets good reviews from our members.  But I wouldn’t attempt to use it as a substitute for socks or tights in cold weather, sorry!

Here’s the full article in Business Week.  Sorry if I popped your bubble on finding a miracle cream!  Please share your experience with these products if you’ve used them.


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