Sun & Skin News

A Surprising Danger in Planes, Trains and Automobiles

By Julie Bain • December 6, 2023

Before you hit the road or board a train, bus or plane this season, here’s a new way to make your trip safer: Protect yourself from the sun while you’re getting to your destination.

You know when you’re on a long trip, stuck on the sunny side, and your ear or your arm feels like it’s on fire? It may actually be harming you.

Here’s How It Works

Two main types of ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can cause DNA damage in your skin, even from brief exposures. The shorter UVB rays are the ones that mainly cause sunburn, while the longer UVA rays lead to tanning as well as skin aging, wrinkles, and even sunburn. Over time, the damage from either or both types of rays can lead to skin cancer. 

While glass blocks UVB rays pretty well, it doesn’t block UVA rays. Windshields are treated to shield drivers from some UVA, but side, back and sunroof windows usually aren’t. So when you’re in your car, you should protect yourself and your family from that sunlight shining through the glass.

The same holds true for windows on airplanes, trains and buses. Have you ever felt like you’re burning up sitting on the sunny side by an airplane window? Yes, you’re being bombarded by UVA up there, too, and maybe even more so because of being at high altitude. (Airline pilots and crew members tend to get more skin cancer than people in other professions.)

5 Travel Protection Tips

1. About 90 percent of all holiday travel is by car, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, so that’s where you’re probably getting the most exposure. Think sunscreen, protective clothing and sunglasses for all your family members before you load the luggage into the trunk. If you have babies, a hat and clothing are their best protection. You can start using sunscreen on them at the age of six months.

2. Be sure to look for the words “broad spectrum” on the sunscreen label to make sure the formula protects against UVA rays as well as UVB.

3. Consider installing transparent UV-blocking window film in your car for long-term peace of mind.

4. Flyers, be sure to bring the maximum amount of sunscreen the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) allows (3.4 ounces) in your carry-on bag, so you have some in reserve to reapply. Pack larger containers of sunscreen in your checked luggage for the rest of your trip.

5. Remember that no matter where you’re headed, whether it’s to a tropical beach, powdery slopes, or to see your loved ones in any season, you still need sun protection every day, all year long.

Safe and happy travels to you!

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