Should I Wear Sunscreen While Driving?

sun protection while driving Do you wear sunscreen while driving? Most people don’t. They think their windshields will keep UV rays out and, if not, well, they’re only driving a short distance. It won’t take long. But even the shortest distance becomes too long when your skin is unprotected.

Left side of the face is more prone to skin cancer

A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology has confirmed “an increase in photodamage and precancers on the left side of the face”. The results showed that, in the US, 52.6% of skin cancers occurred on the left side, while 47.4% on the right side. This difference may not seem considerable to some, but it’s important to note that those numbers take into consideration all types of skin cancer. When we only consider malignant melanoma, the findings are much more worrying. A staggering 74% of them occurred on the left side, while “only” 26% on the right one.

Driving may be the main culprit

Why is the left side more affected? Susan T. Butler, MD, coauthor of the study, suggests that “the increase in left-sided skin cancers may be from the UV exposure we get when driving a car”. The left side, is, in fact, the one more exposed to sunlight when we drive (of course, in the UK and countries where people drive on the right, the opposite would be true).

UV rays are present even when we don’t see them. They pass through clouds and are even reflect on snow. And their damage is cumulative. Even if you only drive for 5 minutes a day, over the course of a year your left side will have accumulated far more damage than your right one.

And while most windshields protect against sunburn-causing UVB rays, they still allow most of the UVA rays (which are responsible for both premature aging and cancer) to pass through. Rear and side windows, on the other hand, offer no protection at all. So, unless you have them tinted with strong UV filters, you can’t rely on them for sun protection. And even then, you should wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen anyway. You’ll need it when you get out of your car.

The Bottom Line

Always wear sunscreen before getting into a car. Even if you’re just the passenger. And, especially if you’re going to drive for a few hours, keep a bottle in your car so that you can easily reapply it whenever you need to. Remember, better safe than sorry!

Photo source: Wouter van Erve
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  1. Nonie says

    I believe sunscreen should be worn at all times, not just when driving. The sun isn’t kinder to you because you are taking the bus, train or walking.

    Also I find the study odd in its conclusion of what side of the face is exposed to the sun based on whether one is in the US or the UK When I drive to work in the US, the sun is usually to my right with a shadow on my left. The opposite is true when I drive back home. So I think what side of your face is in danger depends more on which side the sun is on while you drive and not what part of the world you are in

    The proof of how aging the sun can be was shown a while ago when a truck driver whose face was always exposed to the sun when he drove in the same direction had different degrees on aging on either side of his face. Article:

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Nonie, I couldn’t agree more. Sunscreen should be worn at all times, except at night of course. However, most people don’t realise that you need to wear it while driving, thinking the glass is enough to block out UV rays. I thought this study may give them something to think about. And thank you for posting a link to that photo. It’s true, the sun damages all sides of the face in different degrees and you want to make sure you’re well-protected everywhere.

  2. says

    It’s true. Another reason it’s important to remember to wear sunscreen!

    Apply it 30mins before you leave home. Apply it again a few minutes before you leave home. If you can safely do this, apply some again after about 30mins of driving on your left arm or any skin exposed on the left at a long red light, parked in a parking lot, wherever (NOT while driving!). One of my arms was seriously more tan than the other because of UV damage while driving. I’d have kept sunscreen in the car more often, but the heat in Florida can cause cars to get up to 200F inside, even if it’s only 85F outside. Ruins the sunscreen. Sometimes it gets so hot I can actually feel the oils on my skin cooking. x.x It’s not fun. So don’t forget!
    BebeTaian´s last blog post ..Considering Getting A Kanji Tattoo?My Profile

    • Gio says

      BebeTaian, that’s some wonderful advice, thank you! We should apply sunscreen on any area exposed to the sun, not just the face, and do so often. Thanks for the remainder.

      And it definitely wouldn’t be good to leave your sunscreen in a car when it’s that hot! I think it’s a good habit to keep a bottle in the car, but only if you can do so safely.

  3. says

    Everyone that is worried about the sun’s damage to their skin should look at our new product we call suncloths. Suncoths block UVA and UVB rays at over 90% and have a 50+ UPF rating. They are light weight and can be left attached to your seatbelt after you have left your car.

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