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Did you know that riding in cars puts you at risk for skin cancer? That’s right, there’s enough harmful UV radiation passing through the average vehicle’s windows to damage your skin. Fortunately, you can take steps, such as tinting your car windows, to reduce the risk of getting skin cancer from UV rays passing through your vehicle’s windows.

Why you should avoid harmful UV rays

Do car windows block UV rays, skin cancer
View through a car windshield | Tim Graham/Getty Images

First, let’s take a look at the two types of UV rays. The shorter, UVB rays are responsible for that painful, blistering, peeling rash you get when after forgetting to apply sunscreen at the beach or in your yard. Fortunately for your skin, car windows are rather effective at blocking UVB rays.

However, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, those same car windows do little to nothing to block the longer, UVA rays. These dangerous rays pass right through the glass in car windows, causing tanning, wrinkling, sagging, and premature aging of your skin. Both UVB and UBA rays also damage the DNA in your skin cells. The accumulation of that damage, from either or both types of UV rays, can eventually cause skin cancer.

University of Utah Health reports that the serious, invasive type of skin cancer called melanoma is found on the left side of people’s body in about 74% of cases. If you spend a lot of time behind the wheel, you should protect yourself from this deadly form of skin cancer.

Most car windows don’t protect you from harmful UV rays

Windshields are treated to provide UVA protection, but you’re usually out of luck when it comes to the back, side, and roof windows. If your daily commute has you on the road for hours a week, it’s crucial that you take steps to protect your skin during that time. You should also protect your eyes because cataracts tend to occur most often in drivers’ left eyes.

Wearing UV-protective clothing and a broad-spectrum sunscreen on your face and arms (plus your legs if they’re exposed) can help. Also, wear UV-resistant sunglasses to protect your eyes. 

The right kind of window tint will also help. Just be aware that some tints do not block UVA rays, so avoid those. Another matter are state laws governing the darkness of window tints in vehicles. Are tinted windows illegal in your state? If so, there’s no cause for concern. Clear films are also effective at blocking UVA rays even without the tint.

Planes, trains, and automobiles

Cars aren’t the only vehicles that can put you at risk for skin cancer. The sun streaming through that train or plane window can be equally dangerous. Follow the same routine (wearing UV-protective clothing, sunscreen, and sunglasses) when using other transport methods.

If a window shade is available, consider deploying it as long as your seatmates don’t object. Just be aware that not all fabrics filter out UV rays. Cruising at high altitudes for hours on end might be why the incidence of skin cancers is so high among airline pilots and crew members. If you’re a frequent flyer, you’ll want to take all precautions to avoid UV rays.

By following these suggestions for protecting yourself from dangerous UV rays, the only things you’ll bring back from that awesome summer trip will be souvenirs and memories.