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Car Windows Won't Protect You From UV Rays

Heading out on a summer road trip? Make sure to layer on the sunscreen— even if you plan on just sitting in the car. You may not realize it, but the windows separating you from the sun's rays aren’t doing a great job of truly protecting you. 

Ultraviolet Rays: What’s the Difference?

There are two type of ultraviolet (UV) rays to be worried about. While UVA and UVB rays impact your skin differently, they both cause skin cancer.

•    UVA rays are responsible for tanning your skin, but they also cause skin aging and wrinkles. These rays have a longer wavelength, which allows them to penetrate into deeper layers of the skin.
•    UVB rays cause sunburn. These rays have a shorter wavelength that plays a critical role in causing skin cancers. 

UV Exposure in the Car

While the front windshield of your car blocks most of the UVA and UVB radiation coming from the sun, the side windows and sunroof may not be pulling their weight. Due to its shorter wavelength, UVB light is more easily blocked by window glass. However, the longer UVA wavelengths require additional protective measures to avoid passing through the glass.

Research has found that while the front windshield blocks 94 percent of UVA rays, the driver's side window only blocked 71 percent. To date, multiple studies have shown those that spend much of their time driving have an increased risk of skin cancer and UV-induced skin damage on the side of their body exposed to the sun. This damage is primarily due to the UVA light passing through the driver's side window.

Sun protection tips

While a change in the way cars develop windows would be ideal, it’s important to take your own precautions to protect your skin. Follow these tips if you plan on spending long periods of time in your car.

  • Consider installing UV-blocking window film on all windows in your car
  • Wear long sleeves, a hat, and sunglasses
  • Apply broad spectrum sunscreen on your arms, hands, and face

Those who spend a lot of time driving should regularly conduct skin self-exams of the whole body and keep an eye out for any new, changing, or suspicious spots on their skin. Contact your dermatologist if you develop any new or concerning spots.