Why sunny weather increases drivers’ skin cancer risk

Drivers' skin cancer risk

In sunny weather, drivers of convertible cars should apply suncream – whether the roof is open or closed (Picture © Ford)

The arrival of the sun comes with a serious risk for drivers and their passengers: skin cancer. Drivers of cars with a convertible roof will already be aware of the harmful side effects of the sun’s rays. But studies in the US (where cars are left-hand drive) have discovered that for drivers, the left side of the head, neck, arm and hand receive up to six times the dose of UV radiation as the right side. This makes drivers more susceptible to skin cancer on their left sides. In the UK, where cars are right-hand drive, driver’s right sides will be more vulnerable. Read our guide to this invisible problem and how to guard against it. 

Drivers’ skin cancer risk: How drivers and passengers are affected

There are two types of harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun: UVA and UVB. UVA rays are longer and therefore weaker than UVB rays. They don’t cause sun burn like UVB rays. However they have been suspected of having more long-term effects, such as wrinkling and ageing of the skin and – of far greater concern – skin cancer. Cancer Research UK warns that anyone travelling by car over long distances in sunny weather should wear suncream: “Most glass used for windows blocks UVB but not UVA. This means that although glass might reduce the risk of sunburn, it does not prevent long term damage from UVA. So, if you are driving long distances every day, you need to make sure you are using sun protection on sunny days.”

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Drivers’ skin cancer risk: What sort of protection does car glass give?

Drivers' skin cancer risk

The windscreen and panoramic sunroof typically guard against harmful UV rays (Picture © Honda)

Car windscreens have to be laminated by law. This is where two sheets of glass sandwich a toughened plastic or adhesive layer in order to prevent the glass shattering in an impact. Glass like this usually has an equivalent SPF (sun protection factor) of 50. However, legislation governing side windows isn’t as strict, so side window glass is most commonly ‘toughened’ glass, because it’s cheaper. This usually only absorbs 65 per cent of UV rays which gives side windows an SPF of around 16 – equivalent to a low grade sun screen.

Drivers’ skin cancer risk: Does your car protect you?

If you drive or travel in an older car, you’re likely to be more at risk from skin cancer because they don’t have laminated side windows. Modern cars’ windows are increasingly fitted with laminated glass, which has a thin layer of adhesive between two sheets of glass, giving security and safety benefits. The side-effect of this is that it offers protection from sun damage, whereas old cars won’t offer any protection at all. Glass maker Pilkington says that over the next 10 years, laminated glass in side windows will increasingly be used. Typically, panoramic glass sunroofs are tinted to increase their SPF.

Drivers’ skin cancer risk: How to limit it

Experts say drivers should protect skin from sun damage by using a sun screen with an SPF of 15 or higher. They should also ensure their cream contains a combination of UVA shielding ingredients. According to the NHS, we should apply cream liberally, using two teaspoons for a face and neck area and be prepared to reapply every two hours. So if you’re travelling far, take a break, grab a drink and slap on the suncream.

Drivers’ skin cancer risk: What protection do tinted windows offer?

Some safety film, or tinted film, is UV protective. However anyone tinting their car’s windows should be careful they’re not breaking the law. For cars registered after April 1, 1985, front windscreens must let 75 per cent of the light through; side windows 70 per cent.

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