need to wear sunscreen when driving

Do you wear sunscreen while driving?

In case you’re thinking:

“Come on, Gio, I don’t need sunscreen while driving. The windshields are enough to protect me” or

“But I’m only driving a short distance – like, 10 minutes tops. Why would I put on sunscreen for that?”

Think again.

Driving without sunscreen – for 10 minutes or one hour – can make one side of the face age faster than the other. Here’s what I mean:

What Is Sunscreen And While Do You Need It?

Before we talk about wearing sunscreen while driving, here’s a quick reminder why you need sunscreen at all. The sun emits two types of ultraviolet radiation: UVA and UVB rays:

“UVA rays have a longer wavelength and are more associated with skin aging because they penetrate the skin more deeply,” says medical and cosmetic dermatologist, DiAnne Davis, MD, FAAD. “UVB rays have a shorter wavelength and are more associated with suntans, sunburns, and blisters.”

When UV rays hit your skin, the UV filters in your sunscreens absorb them and covert them into a less damaging form of energy (heat) that prevents all that damage from happening to your skin in the first place.

But do you need to wear sunscreen while driving? Don’t car windows keep your skin safe enough? Mmmm….

Your Left Side Of The Face Is More Prone To Skin Cancer

Did you know your left side of the face is more prone to skin cancer?

It’s true. 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 are clear: in the US, 52.6% of skin cancers occurred on the left side, while 47.4% on the right side. When I mean skin cancer, I mean ALL types of skin cancer.

If we narrow it down to malignant melanoma (the WORST possible type of skin cancer), the figures go up. A staggering 74% of them occurred on the left side, while “only” 26% on the right one.

How effective is your sunscreen? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Sunscreen Audit” Worksheet and find out if your sunscreen is really up to the job:

Does Driving Increases Your Chances Of Skin Cancer?

Why does skin cancer prefer the left side?

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“.

Think about it. The left side of your face is closer to the window and so most exposed to UV rays when driving.

(FYI, if you live in the UK and drive on the right side of the road, the opposite is true for you).

Can UV Rays Penetrate Car Windows?

Yes. Uv rays can and do penetrate through car windows – and it doesn’t matter what time of the year is either.

UV rays are present from the moment the sun comes up to the moment it comes down – even when the sun is hidden behind clouds. They can penetrate through windows and even be reflected on snow.

It’s true that most windshields today protect against sunburn-causing UVB rays, but UVA still get through them. Plus, all the other windows in your car provide no sun protection at all – unless you have them tinted with strong UV filters.

And that’s why studies find that the side of the face closer to the window is more prone to sun damage and skin cancer – especially if you’re a bus driver, a pilot, or someone who drives a lot.

Who Should Wear Sunscreen While Driving?

Everyone. Sunscreen isn’t just to prevent a sunburn. It also prevents wrinkles and cancer. Needless to say, the more sun exposure you get, the more damage your skin will suffer.

If you’re a bus driver, or someone who drives a lot for work, or even just commuting a couple of hours a day in your car, sunscreen is an absolute must.

But even if you don’t drive much, you’re still at risk. Drive 5 minutes today without sunscreen, 5 minutes tomorrow and by the end of the year, your left side will be more sun damaged than your right one. Pile on that sunscreen, ladies!

How To Protect Your Skin While Driving

  • Wear sunscreen: Apply a generous dose of sunscreen before you get into your car and reapply it two or three times during the day. As you go through your day, you’ll brush sunscreen off your skin, towel dry it away, or its UV filters may start to lose effectiveness. When in doubt, reapply.
  • Consider tinted windows: For extra protection, you may consider to install UV-tinted windows in your car – all over your car.

What Are The Best Sunscreens To Use While Driving?

You don’t need any special sunscreen while driving. The best sunscreen is the one you’ll use. So pick a lightweight formula you enjoy using and that’s easy to pile on without caking.

In case you’re wondering, here are my fave sunscreen options and recommendations:

  • Dr Dennis Gross All-Physical Ultimate Defense Broad Spectrum Suncreen SPF 50 PA++++ ($42.00): A zinc oxide sunscreen with soothing agents to protect skin from UV rays and soothe inflammation. Available at Cult BeautyDermstoreNordstromSephora, and SpaceNK.
  • EltaMD UV Pure BroadSpectrum SPF 47 ($25.00): A wonderful, lightweight formula for oily skin that provides broad-spectrum protection without leaving a greasy, white mess. Available at Dermstore and Walmart
  • La Roche Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Dry Touch Face Sunscreen SPF 60 ($19.99): Ideal for oily skin, this lightweight sunscreen provides broad spectrum protection and absorbs excess oil for a matte finish. Available at BootsDermstoreLa Roche Posay, and Ulta.
  • Murad City Skin Age Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 / PA++++ ($69.00): A mineral sunscreen enriched with natural oils, soothing agents, and antioxidants to provide broad-spectrum protection, prevent wrinkles, and soothe inflammation. It rubs in well and isn’t greasy. Available at Cult BeautyLook FantasticMuradSephoraSpaceNK an Ulta.

The Bottom Line

It doesn’t matter if you’re driving for 5 minutes or for 1 hour, always put on sunscreen before getting into the car – even ifs you’re a passenger. Sunscreen while driving isn’t optional – it’s a necessity.