By Jennifer Newman on June 13, 2012
Many of us slather on the sunscreen before heading outdoors, but are you applying it before you get in the car for your morning and evening commute?
If you're not, you should be, especially if you spend hours a week driving a car with the sun beating down on just one side of your face. The photo of this 69-year-old man, who was a truck driver for more than 25 years, illustrates what the sun's UVA (long-wave ultraviolet) rays can do.
The man's case recently appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. The unnamed man sought treatment at Northwestern University in Chicago for the deep wrinkles in the left side of his face that made him look 20 years older on just one side. His face's right side didn't receive the long-term sun exposure and looks appropriate for a 69-year-old.The study's authors, Dr. Jennifer R.S. Gordon and Dr. Joaquin C. Brieva of Northwestern, write that the man's affected skin was likely exposed to UVA rays, which penetrate skin more deeply than UVB (shortwave) rays that cause sunburn, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. UVA rays also can penetrate clouds and glass.
The amount of UVA rays that get through a car's window depends on its tint. Honda uses two types of glass: green glass, which looks almost clear and has a light transmissivity of at least 75% by regulation; and gray glass, which looks tinted and has a light transmissivity of only 20%, said Honda spokesman Chuck Schifsky. "As light transmissivity decreases, UV protection increases," Schifsky said. So front-row occupants aren't getting as much sun protection as backseat passengers.
Green glass is the only type of glass that's allowed in sedans, and it's also used for windshields and front-row side windows in light trucks, he said. Gray glass is used for rear windows in light trucks, including SUVs and minivans. There's a limited number of glass suppliers for the auto industry, so other automakers have similar window-glass use.
A number of aftermarket window-tint products do provide UVA protection. When doing your research, however, make sure you're using a reputable shop to apply the various types of films and that your tint is in line with local law enforcement regulations. A good tint job should cost a few hundred dollars for a sedan.
If you don't want to spend the money, what can you do to stop what happened to the man in the photo?
"It's important to wear sunscreen daily, especially if you have a long commute," said Amy Derick, a clinical instructor of dermatology at Northwestern who wasn't involved in the 69-year-old's case. "Windows typically block UVB light, but not UVA light.
"It's common for me to see people with more photodamage on the left side [of their face] versus the right," Derick said.
To keep your skin healthy, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and remember to reapply it before your commute home, too. The Skin Cancer Foundation also recommends wearing hats, wraparound sunglasses and long-sleeved, tightly woven clothing to protect the skin on your arm.
Remember an ounce of prevention — or sunscreen, in this case — is worth a pound of cure. The 69-year-old man will be monitored by his doctors for skin cancer.
Assistant Managing Editor Jennifer Newman is a certified car-seat technician. A mom of two, she owns a 2013 Subaru Outback crammed with sports gear. Email Jennifer