Protect Yourself From Skin Cancer Even in the Car

We all know not to head out for a day at the beach without sun protection. But what if your only sun exposure throughout the day is in your car while shuttling your family to all of their commitments? Surely you're safe, right? Surely your car's windows are loaded up with both UVA and UVB protection, right?

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Wrong! On average people spend one to two hours everyday inside their cars with only the car windows between their skin and the sun's damaging rays? Ultraviolet protection varies widely from car to car, and the type, thickness and color of car windows all impact UV filtration. Most windshields have a sun protection factor of around 50 while most side windows only have about 16 SPF, said Debra Levy, Auto Glass Safety Council president.

What can we do to protect our skin while driving? I reached out to Dr. Scott W. Fosko, professor and chairman of Saint Louis University's dermatology department to answer this very question. Here are some of his top suggestions:

Sun-safe practices: "Use the common 'sun-safe' practices of wearing protective clothing, wide-brim hats (especially for convertible, top-down exposure) and broad-spectrum sunscreen, one that protects against both UVB and UVA rays, with an SPF factor of 30."

OK, doc, I'll keep lathering on my SPF, but wearing a wide-brimmed hat to do the carpool run might be slightly unreasonable. Not to mention that it probably won't help protect the other overlooked areas like arms and hands. And what about my husband? It's a daily struggle to "help" him remember his SPF, not to mention my kiddos.

Invest in window films: "Aftermarket window films can be applied to block the majority (two studies showed a 99 percent reduction) of [ultraviolet radiation], both UVB and UVA," Fosko said. Laws differ from state to state and city to city, so it's best to check with a window-tint dealer to find out how dark you're allowed to tint car windows in your area. However, you don't necessarily need a dark tint to protect against UV exposure. LLumar Window Films offers both tinted and clear versions with a "high-performance infrared, heat-absorbing film that allows visible light in while it helps block solar heat and more than 99 percent of harmful UV rays," said Janet Ryan, LLumar spokeswoman. These films range from $200 to $500; it's an investment, but one that could help protect your family more consistently than nagging everyone about wearing sunblock to drive to the grocery store.

Wear your shades: "Wear wraparound sunglasses rated for UV protection," Fosko said. Maximum UV exposure to the eyes occurs between 8 and 10 a.m. and 2 and 4 p.m. because solar radiation is parallel to the eye, he said. This is different than the peak UV exposure to the skin, which is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. "So driving to and from work and school is peak time for the eye exposure," he said.

Remember those shocking photos of the truck driver with extreme sun damage on only the left side of his face. Should drivers be concerned about increased sun exposure to their left side? The answer is a resounding yes.Fosko studied this phenomenon in 2004 with clear results.

"When including all types of skin cancers and both sexes, more cancers occurred on the left (52.6 percent) than the right (47.4 percent), with a stronger trend in men," Fosko said. "There were significantly more malignant melanoma on the left (74 percent) than the right (26 percent)."

Wow. My husband recently had some suspicious-looking cells removed from the left side of his face. And on that chipper note, if you email me and I don't respond, I'm busy setting up a recurring order of my family's favorite sunblock and finding a LLumar tint installer near me. I suggest you do the same.

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