When you think of skin cancer, you may envision daily beachgoers who forgo sunscreen as they strive for pretzel-colored skin. You may take personal comfort in the knowledge that you faithfully engage in the sunscreen-application ritual every time you hit the beach or outdoor jogging track, but you shouldn't be lulled into a false sense of security. Do you know that you are also exposed to the sun's cancer-causing ultraviolet rays every time you hit the road? If you have long commutes to work or have a job that entails driving throughout the day, find out how you can reduce your elevated risk for skin cancer in the place where you may have least expected to contract it.
Windows Do Not Protect
The windshields of most vehicles are treated to deflect ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B, but the side windows only filter ultraviolet B rays; ultraviolet A rays pass right through them. This means that skin on the side of your body that is facing the window is exposed to those rays and is at an increased risk for skin damage. If you frequently drive, you may have noticed that your left arm appears tanned and darker than your right arm. You may not observe this after one commute, however. The effects of ultraviolet-ray exposure accumulate over time.
The Risk Behind Driver's Tan
According to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, a study concluded that nearly 53 percent of all skin cancer cases in America develop on the left side of the body. If you set out to drive while wearing a tank top, then your left arm, your left shoulder, and the left side of your neck, face, and head are all exposed to ultraviolet rays. If you drive a Jeep and remove the vehicle's side panels when the weather warms up, then your left leg is also exposed if you venture out in shorts. The result is skin damage and accelerated skin aging on those exposed areas. Once your skin sustains such damage, the stage is set for the increased chance of developing several skin-cancer types, such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Reduce Your Risk
While it is probably unrealistic to cut back on your driving time, there are proactive steps that you can take to reduce your risk of exposure to ultraviolet-ray exposure each time you get behind the wheel. Some protective measures that you can take include the following:
- Apply sunscreen that offers a sun protection factor of 15 or greater to all exposed skin before you get behind the wheel.
- If you can rely on your vehicle's air conditioner to keep you cool, consider covering up by wearing clothing with sleeves to protect your arms and shoulders.
- Keep in mind that if you drive in a convertible with the top down, your right side is also exposed and requires sunscreen as well.
- If you have thinning hair or sport the bald-style trend, sunroofs and open convertibles leave the top of your head exposed. Either don a hat or apply sunscreen to your scalp.
- If you are in the market for a new vehicle, consider adding the option of tinted windows to your ride. Tinted windows provide protection against ultraviolet rays when they are closed.
- Consider your passengers' welfare as well. If your significant other, child, or coworker is a frequent companion in your car, then he or she is exposed to ultraviolet rays that penetrate the windows as well. Advise him or her to take the same precautions.
Make a habit of performing a visual inspection of your skin regularly, such as on the first of each month, before you step into the shower. If you discover any growths, moles, areas of discoloration, or anything new about your skin, schedule an appointment with your physician as soon as possible. If you work as a truck driver and thus experience extensive ultraviolet-ray exposure, consult with your doctor about periodic skin-cancer screening. Early detection and treatment of any type of skin cancer provides your best chance for a complete cure.