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Do You Need to Wear Sunscreen While Driving?

Stephen Fogel
August 4, 2019

summer car

Sunscreen is your friend, especially during the summer. But what about all the time you spend behind the wheel of your car, with the sun shining in?

The sun is essential to our well-being. It helps our bodies to establish proper sleeping patterns, and to make vitamin D, which keeps us healthy. But UV rays, which can be broken down further into UVA and UVB, can be damaging. UVB rays have a shorter wavelength and can cause sunburn. UVA rays can travel deeper into your skin, accelerating its aging and causing skin cancer.

The bottom line? Protecting your skin from the sun’s UV rays will keep you looking your best, and very possibly living longer as a result.

Does the glass in your car block UV rays?

Yes and no. The glass itself blocks UVB rays, so you are unlikely to get a sunburn when you’re inside your car with the windows up. Your windshield will block just about all of the UVA rays, thanks to the layer of plastic used in its laminated construction. As a result, your windshield provides the equivalent of an SPF 50 protection level. The glass found in most sunroofs will also protect you from UVA and UVB, when you have it closed.

Things aren’t so good when we get to the rear and side windows. These are usually thinner and don’t have the plastic layer. They stop some, but not all of the damaging UVA rays, generally giving you an SPF equivalent of only 16, comparable to the most basic sunscreen.

Some newer vehicles are starting to use laminated and more UVA-resistant glass for their side and rear windows. This is something to check out the next time you're car shopping.

Not always protected

So what does this all mean as you drive to work or school, or run your daily errands in your car? Studies have shown that drivers tend to have more sun damage and skin cancer on their left sides, the side that is closest to the window.

This is the result of drivers getting more than five times the amount of radiation on their left sides, as compared to their right sides. This is proof that the damaging rays of the sun can penetrate your side glass and cause you harm.

It could be worse. If you like to drive with your windows down, your sunroof open, or your convertible top down, there is absolutely nothing between your skin and the UV rays. You are fully exposed.

There is one solution to this problem — wear sunscreen while driving!

Sunscreen tips

The best approach to protecting your skin is to wear sunscreen while driving during daytime hours. Here are some additional sunscreen tips:

  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you start driving
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher
  • Use at least an ounce of sunscreen on your body to get full protection, including a teaspoonful for your face
  • Reapply your sunscreen every three hours (set an alarm on your phone)
  • Keep a container of sunscreen in your car so you always have it handy
  • Replace your sunscreen when it reaches its expiration date
  • Protect your lips with an SPF-rated lip balm

Some strategies to achieve the next level of sun protection while driving include:

  • Use sunglasses that screen out UVA and UVB rays
  • Keep your car windows closed during peak sun hours (10:00 am – 4:00 pm)
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat if you open the sunroof or put the top down
  • Wear SPF-rated clothing with long sleeves for added protection
  • Have UV-blocking window film applied to your car windows
  • Limit the amount of time that you are exposed to the sun inside your car
Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.