When to Replace Your Skateboard Helmet
If you've been skateboarding for a while, you know how important a skate helmet is in protecting your head from falls at the park, the pavement, rails, or other obstacles. But sometimes that old soldier needs to be retired, and not just because you like a new helmet better. While skate helmets are designed to withstand multiple small impacts, repeated hits, age, and other factors can lower the protective capacity of a skateboard helmet. Check out the two videos below for advice on when to replace your skateboard helmet.
Skateboard helmets vs. bike/skate helmets: Which is right for you?
Not sure whether you need a skateboard helmet or a dual-use bike/skate helmet (essentially a skateboard helmet that is also good for bicycling)? It depends on what you’ll be doing. If skateboarding is your only sport, you’ll be fine with a "skateboard only" helmet. If you want a skateboard-style helmet that you can ALSO use for bicycling, you should purchase a skateboard helmet that also meets the CPSC safety standards for bicycle use. Bicycle helmets are required by federal law, to meet Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) safety standards. If you’re biking, be sure you are using a cycling helmet that meets CPSC standards. For instance, most helmets designed only for skate use do not meet CPSC standards, however, some skateboard helmets do meet the ASTM F1492 safety standard. Skate helmets must be multi-impact in order to meet the ASTM standard. Testing the helmet against the ASTM standard is not free, thus some manufacturers do not pursue it. A skate helmet without the ASTM certification may be a perfectly safe helmet. However, its presence gives some indication as to the level of protection you can expect from the skate helmet.
What's the difference between a skateboard helmet and a bicycle helmet?
There are a few obvious and not-so-obvious differences between a skateboard helmet and a bicycle helmet:
- Skateboard helmets have a round, bucket shape that covers more of the back of your head than the traditional bicycle helmet. You’ll need this extra coverage in a backwards fall.
- Skateboard helmets typically have an inner liner made of soft foam. This protective liner that is meant to slow the force of multiple, low to moderate impacts.
- Skate-only helmets typically have a hard exterior shell and a protective inner liner made of expanded polypropylene (EPP). Bicycle helmets have a very thin exterior shell typically made of ABS plastic with a protective liner made of stiff expanded polystyrene foam (EPS). Note that EPS is often mistakenly called “Styrofoam.” They are two separate substances.
- Skateboard helmets are designed to sustain a series of small impacts at low speeds, while a traditional bicycle helmet is designed to withstand one big impact (like a crash)
- Skateboard helmets don’t need the aerodynamic design of a bicycle helmet or quite as many huge vents.
How Long Does the Average Skate Helmet Last?
The useful life of a skate helmet varies based on use. Not just how often you use it, but how you use it (and how and where you keep it when you’re not using it). Some big factors that can affect a helmet’s protective capacity:
- Exposure to chemicals found in skin lotions, sunscreen, or insect repellent
- Temperature cycles from leaving it in a cold garage all winter or a hot car trunk for extended periods during the summer
- How much ozone exposure it has had from the sun or from being stored near an electric motor
- How many dings and dents it has received
A number of helmet manufacturers recommend replacing helmets every three to five years. For instance, Easton Bell Sports recommends replacing helmets after three years of use. The company acknowledges that this is a conservative approach but notes: "True, many or most helmets ten years old may work fine. What we can’t say is that any particular helmet of that age will perform properly." (Corporate Affairs Executive) It's not only helmet manufacturers who urge consumers to err on the side of caution regarding helmet replacement. The Snell Foundation is not-for-profit organization dedicated to research, education, testing and development of helmet safety standards. Snell also takes a more conservative approach to helmet replacement, recommending that users replace their helmet every five years. Snell cites many of the same reasons as Easton Bell for frequent replacement:
- The potential break-down of glues, resins and other products used to construct the helmet
- Potential degradation from body oils and consumer products
- Normal wear and tear
- Snell also notes that "experience indicates there will be a noticeable improvement in the protective characteristic of helmets over a five-year period due to advances in materials, designs, production methods, and standards."
The folks at the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI) also weigh in on when to replace a helmet. They are a bit more liberal in their replacement recommendations, going beyond the five-year mark if a helmet is not cracked or otherwise damaged. BHSI also conducted a study of the effect of cosmetics and other commonly used chemicals on helmets. Their initial visual observations were that helmets dosed with DEET (used in many insect repellents) and those dosed with sunscreen showed some visible degradation to the protective foam liner. However, test conducted by an independent laboratory showed that, which the exception of a helmet dosed with gasoline, all the helmets still passed the CPSC bike standard. The complete results of the BHSI test (with copious photos) is online on their website.
So Should I Replace My Helmet or Not?
Skate helmets are designed to withstand multiple small impacts - like repeated falls when you're practicing a new trick in the park. But no helmet is indestructible - sooner or later, every helmet will fail. Ultimately, the decision to replace a helmet or not rests with you. We’re happy you’ve taken the precaution of wearing a skate helmet in the first place. When and how often to replace that helmet is your choice. Please remember that if your helmet has taken a significant number of hits - an accident or fall hard enough to make you say "Wow"—replace the helmet, even if it does not look visibly damaged. Just as you (should) give your skateboard or skate a periodic check-up to see if anything is loose or needs to be replaced, you should inspect your helmet regularly. Give your skate helmet a good inspection at least once a year. And again, if you’ve sustained a particularly heavy blow while wearing that helmet, it’s time to get a new one.
Replacing Children’s Skate Helmets
It’s a common (and environmentally responsible) practice for parents to trade off clothes, helmets, and sports equipment to other parents as their kids grow or to buy used sports equipment. And why not? A pair of soccer cleats that were only used for one or two seasons still have a lot of use left in them. The only case where this scenario might not be safe is in the case of helmets. Before your child wears a
second-hand skateboard helmet, know where it came from and if the helmet ever sustained any significant hits. Just because a helmet looks okay on the outside does not mean the interior liner is still intact. Inspect any used helmet carefully. In general, XSportsProtective does not recommend used helmets. Like car safety seats, you simply don’t know the helmet’s history. And for only around $30-$40, why take the risk?