How Dangerous Is Sun Exposure In The Car?

When you are outside on a hot and sunny day, you are probably aware of the dangers of too much sun exposure and the need for sunscreen.

But what about when you are driving or riding in a car? The sun may only be shining on the part of your body near the window but not on the rest of you, so you may not think that it is a big deal.

However, sun exposure in the car can be just as dangerous as outside exposure.

Do Windows Provide Protection From The Sun’s UV Rays?

The sun hits you with two types of harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays: UVA and UVB.

UVB rays are primarily responsible for sunburns and contribute to cell damage that can lead to skin cancer.

UVA rays are not quite as intense as UVB rays, but they penetrate the skin more deeply and are responsible for premature aging and wrinkling of the skin. Exposure to these rays significantly increases your risk of developing skin cancer.

Normal windows will do an excellent job at blocking out UVB rays but not UVA ones.

So even if you are near a sunny window inside your home or car, you might not get sunburned, but you are still at risk for damage from the UVA rays.

You Are More Likely To Get Skin Cancer On Your Left Side

In the US, where the driver sits on the left side of the car, UV-linked skin cancers (malignant melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma) are significantly more common on the left side of the body. The left side will typically get more sun exposure while driving.

In other countries where the driver sits on the right side of the car, skin cancers are more common on the right side of the body. 

While there may be other factors involved, this difference in occurrence is likely related to the amount of time we spend driving during the day, usually without wearing sunscreen.

How You Can Reduce Your Risk

Although it may seem strange at first to put sunscreen on before driving or riding in the car, it will substantially reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. It will also help to keep your skin looking younger and slow the development of wrinkles and premature aging. Use sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB” to get the best protection.

It can also be helpful to be mindful of your driving direction and where the sun will be at that time of day.

When you are driving in the morning, the sun will rise in the east. If you are driving east, the sun will be on your face, and you will want to wear sunglasses as well as sunscreen. If you are going south, the sun will be to your left, and if you are traveling north, the sun will be to your right.

In the evening, the sun will be setting in the west, so if you are moving west, the sun will be on your face. If you are traveling south, the sun will be to your right, and if you are driving north, the sun will be to your left.

You may be able to get UV-protection film for your car windows but check with your local laws before applying tinted film to your windows.

And finally, if you are driving with your windows down, be aware that you are even more vulnerable to the sun’s UV rays since nothing is blocking them.