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Car Safety: Not Just Seatbelts & Airbags

Car Safety: Not Just Seatbelts & Airbags

When you’re at the beach or lounging by the pool, most of us know how important it is to practice the basics of skin safety. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, liberally and often. Wear breathable, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat, and avoid the sun between 10:00 A.M. and 4 P.M.

But there’s another potentially dangerous source of sun exposure we need to be aware of year-round, and we’re all vulnerable in a somewhat unlikely place: our cars

Sun Safety in Cars

If you're one of the approximately 208 million licensed drivers in the U.S., a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology has something for you think about: nearly 53 percent of skin cancers in the U.S. occur on the left, or drivers' side, of the body. The authors of the double-blind study think this increase in left-sided skin cancers is the result of UV (ultraviolet) exposure that drivers get while behind the wheel.

Protecting Your Skin in a Car

Install Window Film

Both UVA and UVB rays are linked to skin cancers. Standard car window glass only blocks out UVB rays effectively. Although car windshields are partially treated to filter out the UVA rays, side windows let in about 63 percent of the sun’s UV radiation. Rear windows are also unprotected, leaving back seat passengers exposed. Transparent window film screens out almost 100 percent of UVB and UVA without reducing visibility and is available in all 50 states.

Be Prepared

Keep a hat, UV-blocking sunglasses and sunscreen in the car. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using an SPF of 15 or higher on long drives, reapplying every two hours. In the recent study, the second most common area for skin cancers was the arm, so avoid propping your elbow up on the open window. Look for one with an SPF of 15+ and some combination of the following UVA-blocking ingredients: avobenzone, ecamsule, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide.

Arms Inside

On a mild day, it’s tempting to roll down the car windows. If you do, apply sunscreen on exposed areas, and keep your arms inside the car. Long-sleeved shirts are also a great sun-protective option.

Skip the Sunroof

Drivers' heads and necks receive the most UV exposure, so it's no surprise that the recent study found over 82 percent of skin cancers in the drivers studied occurred on these areas. Opting for a solid, closed roof provides the most effective protection-- and don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your face, neck, and scalp.

About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancer are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. But observing the basic rules of skin safety in the sun, including these additional tips for protecting your skin while in a car, can decrease the risk of developing basal or squamous cell carcinomas by about 40 percent.