Almost 50% of drivers aren't aware that skin can be damaged by UVA rays penetrating through a car's windscreen.
British motorists are being urged to protect themselves against the risk of sunburn as the UK’s unusually warm summer weather shows no sign of ending.
New research carried out by Confused.com – in collaboration with leading skin cancer charity Melanoma UK – shows many drivers do not fully understand the potential harm that can be caused by the sun while they are at the wheel.
For example, almost half of motorists (49%) are not aware they are still susceptible to sun damage in the car even if they have their windows closed.
Meanwhile, one in every five – 20% – admit they have previous experience of getting sunburned while driving.
Almost the same proportion (19%) say they have never applied sunscreen while on the road during the summer months.
And 15% of motorists say they deliberately put their arm out of the side window in order to get a tan – something known as a “white van tan”, given its popularity with van drivers.
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Harmful sun rays can pass through glass
Melanoma UK spokesman Dr Christian Aldridge points out that it is a popular misconception that glass can completely protect individuals from ultraviolet radiation.
“These harmful sun rays can still pass through closed car windows, putting motorists at risk of asymmetrical sun damage,” explains Dr Aldridge.
“For years, dermatologists have observed that patients in the US, where left-hand-drive cars are the norm, often have more sun damage on the left side of their faces than on the right, which can lead to wrinkles, leathering, sagging, brown age spots and even skin cancers.
“One study showed the side of the body next to the window received up to six times the dose of UV radiation compared to the shaded side.”
As part of the recent research, Confused.com and Melanoma UK carried out a study into the effects of the sun’s rays on road users.
Tests found that a van driver from South Wales had pre-cancerous cells on his right forearm – which would have been more likely to be exposed to the sun. These were subsequently treated.
When similar tests were carried out on a motorist who regularly used cosmetics which offered protection against the sun, no similar damage was identified.
Ultraviolet radiation from the sun falls into two categories: UVA and UVB.
While clear vehicle windows can block almost all UVB radiation – the type which is absorbed by the top layer of skin and which is most commonly associated with sunburn – they are much less effective against UVA rays.
This kind of radiation can penetrate more deeply into the skin, leading to a loss of elasticity and potentially also premature signs of ageing.
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Check the SPF and star rating when buying sunscreen
The sun protection factor (SPF) of a particular sunscreen is primarily a measure of its ability to block UVB rays and prevent sunburn.
However, sunscreens also have a star rating, between one and five, which relates to their protection levels against UVA rays.
Motoring experts recommend choosing a product that offers high levels of protection against both UVA and UVB radiation.
Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at Confused.com, says: “We have been very fortunate to have had some warm weather the past few weeks, but many drivers don’t realise they could burn even through the windows of their car.
“Our experiment highlights how important it is to apply sun cream in this weather, especially if you’re a frequent or commercial driver.
“With one in five drivers having suffered with sunburn while travelling in the car, applying sunscreen before jumping behind the wheel is just as important as if you are sunbathing.”
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Do you put on sunscreen before getting in the car? Have you ever caught the sun while driving? Join the discussion in the comments!