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UK drivers warned against the dangers of a 'white van tan'

Over half (53%) of motorists are unaware their skin can get sun-damaged while inside the car – even when windows are closed.

Posted on 12 Aug 2016

- Over half (53%) of motorists are unaware their skin can get sun-damaged while inside the car – even when windows are closed -

     • More than a quarter (26%) of motorists admit to suffering sunburn in the car. 
     • One in seven (14%) drivers has stuck their arm out of the car window to catch a tan, with almost a third (29%) having had an accident as a result.
     • Almost one in 10 (9%) falsely believe that the sun in the UK is never strong enough to warrant applying much sun cream in any situation.
     • Long-term exposure to the sun while driving can lead to wrinkles, leathering, sagging and even skin cancers.

The message to cover up could not be more critical this summer as new research from motoring experts reveals the dangers of sun exposure while driving. Over a quarter (26%) of UK drivers have suffered from sunburn while on the road, the study shows. While, worryingly, over half (53%) of motorists admitted they are entirely unaware that their skin can get sun damaged while inside the car - even with the windows closed.

Despite the risks, one in seven (14%) drivers admits to sticking their arm (or another body part) out of the car window to achieve a bronzed look. This not only poses a danger to themselves but to other road users, according to the findings. In fact, almost a third (29%) of these sun worshippers have had an accident or near miss as a result of their desire to catch a better tan.  

Meanwhile, many drivers are clearly either overdoing their exposure to the sun or failing to apply an SPF, as almost one in five (17%) of all motorists admit to having got a red arm while travelling. This has been dubbed the ‘white van tan’, as the right arm on the window while driving is a pose commonly associated with white van drivers. 

The research found that half (50%) of all drivers spent between 1–2 hours per day in their cars. It follows, then, that regular drivers could be at increased risk of skin damage due to prolonged sun exposure, especially during the summer months. 

Despite the perils, a large majority (81%) of people say they have never been concerned about the fact that skin damage can be caused while travelling in a car on a sunny day. So in order to highlight the risks, and leading skin cancer charity Melanoma UK have teamed up to raise awareness of skin damage to the right side of the body while driving in the sunshine. 

According to leading dermatologist Dr Christian Aldridge, a representative from Melanoma UK, glass – like clouds - does not protect you from UV radiation. These harmful sun rays can still pass through closed car windows, putting motorists at risk of asymmetrical sun damage.  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 (1). 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.  

While we aren’t as fortunate as our American cousins when it comes to our yearly supply of sunshine, British drivers do need to be aware of the dangers of sunburn when driving in the height of summer or during a heatwave. To showcase how the sun can affect drivers, and Melanoma UK tested the skin of three British drivers – comparing the right side of their face, shoulders and arms to the left which is shaded when driving.

Dr Christian Aldridge carried out an in-depth skin examination on individuals using UV photo technology to pick up on areas of sun damage not visible to the naked eye. Worryingly, results taken from a van driver from South Wales detected pre-cancerous cells on his right forearm - the arms most typically exposed to the sun - which was consequently treated.  The research also highlighted the protective benefits of sunscreen when driving. Amanda Stretton, a former racing driver and Motoring Editor at who regularly uses cosmetics containing SPF had little to no sun damage in comparison when tested.

Watch the video here:

The research also reveals some of the worrying attitudes that Brits have towards the sun in general. For example, almost one in 10 people falsely believe that the sun in the UK is never strong enough to warrant applying much sun cream in any situation at all. And it appears that males are worse than females when it comes to a lackadaisical approach to protecting their skin. Less than a third (32%) of men say they worry about skin cancer caused by sun bathing compared with just over half (52%) of females. More women (42%) are also concerned about developing wrinkles from the sun than men (14%). 

The findings shed light on the fact that our attitudes towards the sun change as we age. Perhaps unsurprisingly, young adults are the most care-free when it comes to exposing their skin to the sun’s potentially harmful rays. Almost one in five (19%) 18-24 year-olds say they have never applied an SPF as there is no need in the UK, compared with almost one in 10 (9%) 35-44 year-olds, the age group most likely to apply protection. However, surprisingly, the over-55s aren’t far behind the youngsters in their reckless regard for the damage the sun can do to your skin. Nearly one in five (17%) adults in this age group say they don’t apply sun cream whether inside or out of a car even if they weather is nice - the highest percentage of all age groups.

Motoring Editor of, Amanda Stretton, says: “In the UK we all spend so much time complaining about the weather, but being alert to the full dangers of the sun when driving can help reduce skin damage. 

“It was especially shocking to learn that almost a third of drivers nearly had an accident as a result of sticking their arms or other body part out of the car window to catch a tan. It is important not to be reckless when driving and to focus on the road ahead rather than the sunshine.”


Notes to Editors

Unless otherwise stated, all figures taken from omnibus research carried out by One Poll research on behalf of This was an online poll of 2,000 UK adults who drive (nationally representative sample). The research was conducted between 7th July and 11th July 2016.


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