As the weather warms, you’re going to get a lot of reminders to put on sunscreen — and for good reason; according to The Skin Cancer Foundation, every year in the United States, over 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people.
Those of us who heed the warnings of UV rays and sun protection have ditched the tanning bed, put on a floppy hat for shade, and have been trained to apply and reapply sunscreen while at the beach, the pool and the backyard barbecue.
But how many of us have thought about using sunscreen on the road trip, the morning commute and while driving in 5 o’clock traffic?
We spoke with Doctor Charles Kennard, an established Mohs micrographic skin surgeon and owner of Arlington Skin Surgery in Granbury, Texas. Dr. Kennard has treated thousands of skin cancer patients in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, and he believes more people need to be aware of the need to apply sunscreen while driving. “Cancer-causing ultraviolet light passes through normal window glass, and studies have shown that skin cancer and sun-related skin aging, is visibly worse on the driver’s outside face and arm.”
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We often think of skin cancer as something that forms with tanning bed use or direct contact with the sun, but indirect sunlight, like you receive through car windows, can be equally as dangerous. Dr. Kennard continues, “Ultraviolet light from all sources, including sunlight, is a cancer causing agent equal to smoking and arsenic, according to world health agencies. Tinting may not provide protection from dangerous UV light. Only special filtering materials can provide the needed protection.”
Luckily, we have options available to help protect us from UV light while within our cars. Modern technology allows for window tints and laminated glass that average around the equivalent of an SPF 50 and above. Most drivers, however, are unaware whether their car windows, mostly factory model, provide protection at all. The good news is that your windshield and sun roof are almost guaranteed to have UV protection, due to the thick, laminated coating that keeps the glass from shattering on impact in a crash. The windows you roll up and down, however, aren’t guaranteed to provide protection from the sun.
Dr. Kennard recommends getting informed about the level of UVA protection provided by your windows. Look into buying side window tints that provide UVA protection, but that still follow your state’s guidelines for tinting.
How to Protect Yourself While Driving
If you have an older model vehicle, apply sunscreen on exposed skin before you start driving, and pay special attention to exposed areas, including arms, face, neck and ears. For long road trips, reapply when you make a stop. “Make sure it is at least an SPF of 30 and labeled as ‘broad spectrum,’” Dr. Kennard encourages. We recommend Coola Sport, which fits Dr. Kennard’s standards and comes in an easy-to-use spray with skin-friendly sunscreen ingredients. If sunscreens tend to make your face break out, it’s best to find a second brand formulated for your face, like Shiseido’s Urban Environment Oil-Free UV Protector.
Whichever sun protection you choose, don’t keep the bottle in your car. High temperatures affect the UV-protecting compounds, and that’s not what you want. Store your sunscreen at normal room temperature, and follow the expiration guidelines on the bottle.
Share this article with someone you love. Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate by age, and the sooner you start taking care of your skin, the better. Treat your skin right by keeping yourself and your passengers protected on the open road this summer.