Dr. Jennifer Trent, MD, FAAD of American Dermatology Associates, Inc, has provided information on an often-forgotten way for getting sun exposure. This helpful advice will guide you towards behaviors and suggestions to help you be safe in the sun.
I think by now, everyone knows they must wear sunscreen when participating in activities outdoors in direct sunlight, to protect against premature aging from the sun, as well as skin cancer. However, most are still unaware that they can get sun damage and ultimately skin cancer from just driving in the car. Car window glass, not to mention airplane window glass, does not block out the sun’s harmful cancer-causing UVA rays. It is important to use proper sun protection even when you are driving to work or sitting in the car waiting to pick your kids up at the end of the school day. That is why most cancers occur on the left side of the face and body, the driver’s side. Sunburns do cause skin cancers, but cumulative sun damage does as well. If you are exposed to 10 minutes of UV a day, by the end of the week your body has been exposed to 70 minutes of sun. By the end of the month, that exposure time jumps to 300 minutes or 5 hours!
Sunscreen is very important to use daily. But what a lot of people don’t realize is sunscreen only lasts about an hour or two. It will last for even less time if you are sweating or swimming, then it will last even less time. It is critical to reapply every 1-2 hours, even when you are in the car, or immediately after swimming or sweating or wiping your face. Some sunscreens require application 30 minutes prior to sun exposure. It is important to read the directions on the back of the sunscreen bottle or tube. Also, using sunscreen just on your face isn’t enough. You must apply it to all exposed areas of the body, including ears, lips, neck, chest, arms, hands, and legs, even if you are only in the car. To get the benefits of SPF listed on the bottle or tube of sunscreen, you must apply enough. A nickel size amount will cover your face, and 1 oz will cover your body.
If you are like me, I do not like putting sunscreen all over my body. It gets all over the car and your clothes. I feel sticky and slimy before I even get to work. I prefer wearing sun protective clothing in the car and reserving sunscreen for my face only. Choose clothing that’s stylish, lightweight, breathable and very comfortable. I always feel cooler when I am covered up rather than exposed to the intense UV rays of the sun. I can truly feel my skin burning when I am not covered up.
I choose Coolibar for my sun protection because it works well for me. Coolibar subjects their clothing to the very rigorous testing standards of the Australian sun protection clothing manufacturers. Sun protection clothing is given the designation UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor), which is similar to SPF of sunscreen. UPF is the rating system for clothing, which tells you how much UV radiation can penetrate the fabric. For example, the UPF 50 Coolibar clothing only allows 1/50th of sun’s UV radiation to reach the wearer’s skin. In other words, it blocks out 98% of the sun’s harmful cancer-causing UV rays.
I always leave one of my Coolibar jackets with thumbholes in the car. Because it is so lightweight, I put it on over my regular clothes to protect myself while I am in the car. It protects my arms, hands, neck, and chest. If I am feeling too hot while I am in the car, I may put it on backward, just to protect the front of my body. If I am already wearing a V-neck sunscreen shirt, I may just wrap my sun shawl around my chest and neck. If I am wearing my high neck sunscreen shirt, I may just use my neck gaiter. If my shirt doesn’t have thumbholes I will put on my UV gloves. By the way, these gloves are great to use when getting a UV cured gel manicure. If I am wearing shorts or a skirt, I throw my sun shawl or jacket over my legs. I always keep extra sunscreen and chapstick with sunscreen in my car and purse, just in case I am out longer than expected and need to reapply. Also, it is important to protect your eyes with UVA/UVB protection sunglasses. I keep a pair in my purse and one in the car. A wide brim UPF hat is a staple in my car as well so that when I must get out and walk, I am prepared.
Windows may make you feel like you a being protected from the sun they often do not block UVA rays. Remember to be prepared and take your sun protective steps even when you are going on a car ride or know you will be sitting by a window in direct sunlight and avoid those unneeded and unintended hours of sun.
Dr. Trent is a world-recognized dermatologist, who has published over 40 articles in peer-reviewed journals and 6 chapters in various dermatologic textbooks on surgery and wound care. She is currently Medical Director of American Dermatology Associates Inc and voluntary Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the University of Miami.